Monday, August 23, 2010

Can I only imagine?

In 2001 MercyMe released a song by lead singer Bart Millard. “I Can Only Imagine” is a simple meditation that became enormously popular among Christians, and also among secular Country listeners.

I can only imagine
What it will be like
When I walk
By your side.

I can only imagine
What my eyes will see
When your face
Is before me.

I can only imagine.

Surrounded by Your glory, what will my heart feel?
Will I dance for you Jesus or in awe of you be still?
Will I stand in your presence or to my knees will I fall?
Will I sing hallelujah, will I be able to speak at all?
I can only imagine.

Our Abu Dhabi congregation was singing this song when we arrived for worship this week. The words grabbed at me.

“Is that true?” I wondered. “Can we ‘only imagine’ what it is to be in the Presence of Jesus?”

For the Bible tells us that we who believe Him are indwelt NOW by His Spirit, that together we are His body, Jesus in this world. That wherever two or three gather He is there, right there, PRESENT in our midst.

I now know that Millard’s words are about the death of his father, the heart-cry of an 18-year-old who longed to understand what is so great about God that his dad would rather be in Heaven that on earth with him. A different spin, and a meaningful one. But that morning in church my thoughts went to John and what he wrote in Revelation 1.

“On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet…. I turned around to see the voice that was speaking….” And John beheld Jesus in heavenly glory. “His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said; ‘Do not be afraid.’”

John, exiled for his faith, maybe 90 years old, is worshipping on the Lord’s Day. Whatever “in the Spirit” means exactly, we know that John was consciously aware of God’s presence, actively watching and listening. He didn’t need to “only imagine.” But the surprise! Suddenly the veil between heaven and earth disappeared and he glimpsed Jesus in heavenly glory! John’s reaction? This one who once leaned on Jesus at that last meal together? He fell at Jesus’ feet in stark terror. So awed to behold utter purity and brilliance, and to know himself undeserving.

Then Jesus touched him with gracious love. What did John do next? He listened—carefully. And he did what Jesus told him to do. Am I alert to Jesus in a posture of listening dependence that amounts to consciously living in His Present Spirit in me and in my brothers and sisters? So that I hear Him in whatever surprising way He chooses to touch me? How about the doing? Jesus said, “Write!” and John wrote. Today, at this moment, am I doing what Jesus has told me to do—whether general or specific?

My mind meandered on to another story of human response to Jesus’ tangible presence. “Then the little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked those who brought them. Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’” Matthew 19: 13-15. And they watched Jesus place on those small ones the same hands he would later lay on John. Oh, glorious touch of acceptance, blessing and compassion.

But think about it! There they were, with Jesus physically tangible in human body. “I can only imagine” that I would dance and swoon and give Him full attention! But watch these committed followers. They see the small ones, and their human culture tells them that Jesus is too important to give his time and attention to these. (And they are, too!) They shoo them away. They aren’t even kind about it. Ask Jesus what He wants? It does not occur to them. With Jesus right there, they cavalierly move to marginalize people He longs to bless!

Ouch! Before I move into action on Jesus’ behalf, do I ask Him what He wants me to do? Who are the small ones that cross my path? How is my welcome? Where are my hands? Oh, that’s right! They are His hands, for we who belong to Him are His living hands and feet in this world today!

Lord, the realm of imagination allows me to presume easy, exuberant awe and faithfulness. Here in the “real world,” well, it is not quite like that. Lord, change imagination to desire, desire to freedom to choose faithfulness, and faithfulness to tangible action. Amen!

(Photos in this post are by Angie Fuessel and Brad Kerr)

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Back in line...

Still pondering the willingness to wait in line as a celebration of plenty. Enough to go around. We can afford to wait our turn. Lines like that celebrate generosity of spirit. “You can go ahead of me. I acknowledge your worth. You are as fully human as I am.”

But Giridharadas invites us further. The common queue is under attack, he says, by greed. How quickly the human spirit moves from celebration of “enough for everyone” to “my time is worth more than yours! And I can prove it by buying my way to the front!”

Recently I’ve had occasion to fly business or first class due to bumps or company-paid tickets. I LOVE skipping the long lines at security checkpoints, check-in and boarding gates. I LOVE to see my luggage first off the plane. At the same time, it bothers me. A lot. Is it humility? Guilt? Why should I receive this fancy treatment (along with bigger seats and better food) while my companions on the journey endure? Some of them are infirm, others are pregnant, and a few may have been on the road for a very long time. But because of money (BP’s money, or other money that allows me to be such a frequent traveler that I get noticed for the bump), I am chosen. Wealth buys me out of the queue, proclaims me as one-who-shouldn’t-have-to-stand-in-line. Wealth allows the illusion of superiority.

Celebration of plenty, of an “enough” that frees us to respect the dignity of others without going hungry for it so quickly gives way to celebration of self. Wealth is not evil. In fact, it is a glorious part of the Kingdom of God. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills. In Him there is “always more where that came from.” But love of wealth—oh how easily that leads to self-satisfied complacency, neglect of God, and indifference to the plight of my sister or brother!

Lord Jesus, You have granted wealth. Oh such wealth! Your love. A long, grand marriage. Admirable children. A big house chock-full of stuff. Income. Early retirement to follow a dream. Faithful friends. Intelligence and creative energy. Depth in Your Word. Training, and opportunities to use it in myriad places and ways. A world (literally) of experiences. Even occasional first-class rides around the world! Please, oh please, save us from greedy presumption and fill us with radical generosity—a freedom to share it, to give it away, to cast it to the winds like a farmer casts seed in the springtime because we know for certain that in You there is plenty more where that came from! Grant us the freedom to overflow with the plenty of Your love.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


A volcano erupts in Iceland, and we are stuck six extra days in Dublin. The idiot lights blaze on the dashboard of my little car and the thermostat rises out of control. The guard pounds on the door in the night shouting "Fire!" and insists we must evacuate, and I look around at all the stuff that may go up in flames. The title to the villa turns out to be irreparably tainted. The company is downsizing, and there could be lay-offs.

Time and again when some mini- (or maxi-) crisis erupts, I notice how much less angst I suffer now than I would have, say, 20 years ago. Gone are the days when car problems keep me awake nights for fear we won’t be able to make the house payment.

So have I grown up some? Matured in faith?

Not so much. It is just that now I know we have the money to deal with it. Extra days in Dublin become gift, an unplanned holiday. Redundancy (with severance package) would be gravy. Even loss of our stuff could be refreshing!

I’ve been thinking about forgiveness. About Jesus, hanging on the cross, surrounded by mockers yet still able to cry, “Father, forgive them!” About a love so great that He would die that horrific death for a people who didn’t know they needed His forgiveness and didn’t care—all to open the door to reconciliation, to heal a broken relationship.

And about how He calls His people to the same quality of loving forgiveness. Jesus looked human sin full in the face and refused to hold it against us. Though we are already dead because of it, separated from Him by a vast chasm we have no power cross, Jesus built the bridge with His own body so that we can cross into living-giving community with God.

He regarded all our mocking rejection, and our frailty, and loved us anyway.

How could He do that? Not such a big question. Jesus, God, is, well... ABLE. He has it all, needs nothing, dwells in the eternal now.

Here’s the BIG question: how can I offer that same love to those who do evil to me?

Forgiveness is on my mind because when I taught on it the other night I watched pain play on the faces of some of my listeners. I knew their eyes masked stories of betrayal, injustice, and even disappointment with God-who-did-not-rescue-but-allowed-suffering-and-death.

In his essay in the International Herald Tribune on August 7th. Anand Giridharadas posed the theory that cultural willingness to stand in line evidences the growth of a middle class. Poverty must fight and claw in a terrifying free-for-all for survival. The middle class knows there is enough to go around, and so grows the generosity to recognize the dignity and need of another, a generosity that will patiently wait for the fairness of one’s “turn.”

Could it be that our ability to be generous with forgiveness reflects the same kind of security? That there is enough—enough for me and for everyone else, too? Enough that I not only don’t need to scratch and push and grab to take care of my own, but I don’t need to cling to what I do have. “There’s plenty more where that came from!”--a shout of rejoicing that can absorb hurt, refuse offense, give grace, display equanimity, LOVE even when nothing, or even evil, is returned.

A shout like that would imply confidence that I am boundlessly, endlessly forgiven; boundlessly, endlessly loved. Not that we no longer experience pain, grief, humiliation, or disruption. Jesus suffered it all. But there is no fear. Just as I no longer fear losing my job if my car breaks down, there is no fear in Jesus that I will end up alone if another person rejects me or even hates me. Fear is replaced with the humble dignity of one who, like Jesus, needs nothing more than the endless resources of God.

God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.... Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion…. (from 2 Corinthians 9:6-11)

We serve the God who is sovereign over all. We can never use up His resources or outgive Him!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

People who call me "Mom" (in order of appearance)

Caitlin. Unexpected treasure granted this “infertile” couple. “Ha ha!” spake the Father-God in the fall of 1982. “Let me show you what I can do!” Now grown to woman beautiful-in-form made more lovely through abiding faith, depth of character, and courageous mind. Funny. Creative. Lover of science in the real world. Ever ready to celebrate and play. Comfortable in her own skin. Wise in the ways of animals--like she can see into their spirits and capture them with compassion. Hero-eyes for her dad. Valued contributor wherever she goes. Watching for Aragorn, investing in everyone.

Daniel. Experts are defied again as God grants a second baby. Cait’s prayer answered in a strapping-in-size yet fragile baby brother. “I have a boy-sister!” the three-year-old proclaimed when told her prayer had come to pass. God celebrated Dan’s birth with a full-arch rainbow out the window. A child who arrived with promises. Taller than we would have dreamed, he builds “tallest” things. Experimental, agile, with deeply perceptive mind and fast reflexes. Adaptable to original work and contented life in the developing world. I love to hear him sing. Devoted husband full of tender connection to his great love. Respect must be earned with Dan, but once you have it he is unswervingly loyal in work and in friendship. Keeper of confidences. Giver of magnificent hugs.

Eda. My first child-by-marriage is an Albanian beauty, gentle and incredibly strong. She first called me “Mom” to satisfy culture, and then we grew in love and our spirits intertwined. What privilege to have the young couple live in our home, to share with her the journeys of language-learning and all the rest of adapting to life in a strange new land. Quieter than my natural-born lot, she is the one who connects with others who, though so lovely, feel themselves outside the circle of rowdy American easiness. Yet she,too, will black a tooth and don a crazy hat to lip-synch a rock song. Or chase Cait through the house until both fall down and roll with laughter. Teacher of children, studious learner, and creative keeper of home, Eda may be the bravest woman I know. Proof-certain that Dan has wonderful taste in women!

Pawan. From Nepal, he was born just a month before Caitlin. We connected while he worked as guard in our building. I asked whether he knew of someone to do housework. He told me of Deepak, then said, “Madame, now I have told you about my friend, Deepak. Will you please tell me about your friend, Jesus?” Born to a Hindu family, Pawan met Jesus in Nepal and is ever-hungry to know Him better. Tai Kwan Do champion, supporter of his parents and siblings, networker to find work for his brothers. We love the evenings he comes by to cook his home food and share it with us. Pawan has vision to build his home church, and a heart that embraces many. A treasure.

Halil. Turkish. Married to Gül and father of sweet baby Yasmine. Lover of flowers who covers our table with garden blossoms whenever he senses a special occasion. A restaurant waiter caught in the cyclical tornado of the tourist year, Halil (and Gül, too, who is a cook) work non-stop through the season. Not wanting to leave his family for more plentiful off-season work, he finds what he can in Kaş in the winter. Time then to play backgammon with other men, and Halil willingly includes Curt with his local friends. Our family and guests—well, he takes them in as his own. It is “Momi” in Turkish to this lively, open young man. Halil worries some for the future and dreams for his little family. But he bounces, like some lively melody pours out from his core to give rhythm to his gait.

Tahir. The newest of the lot, just a year older than Dan and Eda. From Pakistan, he is another who guards our building. Trained in criminology, he longs for a position in his field. Just like Cait. Meanwhile he works 12-hour shifts, often seven days a week, watching and serving. His tenderness towards Dad and comfort around wheelchairs and walkers opened doors to learn that his mother suffered and died with MS. Like a few others, he loves to drop by to borrow DVDs, and to talk. Wants to know of our faith, and shares elements of his Islam. High hopes his family will arrange his marriage while he is home this month. So far he’s only named me “Mom” on a birthday card, but when he left on holiday he wanted a photo of his “family” here to share with those at home.

The first three—of course they call me “Mom.” High privilege to belong to them. Pawan, Halil, Tahir—well, do I just appear more motherly as I expand, wrinkle and sag? (My friend Chom, from Korea, longs to be fatter for she believes that softness in an older woman speaks of love and wisdom. Come to think of it, she, too, calls me "Mom," though she is older than me. For her it is the address for a spiritual mentor.) Or is it something else flowing through those cracks? Such admirable young men, all three. Hard-working, generous and sacrificial supporters of their own families. Elements of lonely longing in each journey. Diverse in faith, language, heritage. High privilege to be chosen by them.

Lord God, Father-by-adoption, thank you for this grace, pure gift from You. Bless them all, natural-born and born-of-love with ever-deeper knowledge of Your loving engagement in their lives.