Friday, November 25, 2016

A.D. 30 (A.D., #1)A.D. 30 by Ted Dekker

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I bought this for my wife since she enjoys "Christian fiction" but hadn't read Dekker's other work. She read it and enthusiastically recommended it to me. I've read his thrillers, so I hoped he would do a good job with historical fiction. I was not disappointed. AD 30 is beyond Christian fiction. it is an example of great fiction written someone who happens to be dedicated Christian.

Ted Dekker is a writer with the talent to forcefully bring an ancient word into the world of today's reader whoever he or she is. This is Ben Hur for the 21st century. As a Christian, I especially enjoyed the scenes where he helped me feel the depth and power of the heroine's transformational encounters with Yeshua. I felt as if I was her standing before the Lord. As a Christian pastor and chaplain, I've read lots of non-fiction about conversion and putting faith in Jesus. For me, this book moved the focus from the mind to the heart. It helped me remember that Christian conversion is not so much Jesus getting into us as it is us moving into the new world He is creating (see N.T. Wright's books "How God Became King" and "The Day the Revolution Began."

Ted Dekker continues to tell stories in ways that challenge and invite people to consider the faces on every battle between good and evil and what we plan to do about it. I believe in his take on the story we are living. I will recommend this title to my friends and family who are wondering what the world is coming to these days.

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Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Day After

What might it be like to be Hillary Clinton tonight?

I stand opposed to nearly every position she (and the Democrat party) takes, but in the end she is another human being like all of us.  I appreciated the tone and content of her concession speech and hope that people will come together so that no one feels left out of this continuing great experiment we call America.

As much as we pray for Donald Trump to be a leader America and the world needs, I find myself sensing an urgency to pray for Hillary Clinton as well.  What must it be like to have not been chosen after such a long effort to win the country's approval and confidence?  She is someone used to being left.  Her husband did it to her for other women.  The Democratic Party did it to her when it opted for Barack Obama in 2008.  Now it has happened again.

What kind of person is it who is able to regather herself after such abandonments?  Regardless of how much I disagree with her worldview and policy stances, I have to respect her ability to bounce back from circumstances that could have left her despairing.

Don't we know the feeling?  Jesus knew the feeling on the cross: "My God why have you forsaken me?"  Perhaps real faith in God begins where our weakness is most evident: "Into Your hands I commit my spirit."

Now what will Hillary do?  I pray that whatever she is feeling now, she will take it to the One who has promised, "Never will I leave you or forsake you."  And I pray that Donald Trump humbles himself to admit that when he pledges "one nation under God" he understands it to mean "one nation accountable to God."

Monday, November 7, 2016

The Smell of Fine Leather

Back in the day when men landed jobs for life at major manufacturing plants, my father was someone who was ready to move if the grass seemed greener elsewhere.  The summer after my kindergarten year, he moved us from Michigan to Rochester, NY where he took a job in the tool room at Hickok Manufacturing.

Hickok was founded in 1909 by S. Rae Hickok.  It was bought in 1971 by the Tandy Corporation (the same one who owned the now defunct Radio Shack).  My Dad worked there from 1963-1965.  What I knew was that Hickok made belts and other leather accessories for men and awarded the Hickok Belt to the sportsman of the year.

My Dad moved on from there to work at other small shops and factories, eventually spending the last fifteen years of his life in Florida until he died in 1995.

A few weeks ago I was browsing eBay and found an auction for a brown Indian goat skin wallet made by Hickok Manufacturing.  It was in its original box and so far no one had bid on it.  I placed a bid and two days later got word that I had won it!  Now I carry it in my right back pocket.

The word “Hickok” is embossed inside in small gold letters.  I don’t know the date of its creation but it smells wonderfully fresh and two pieces of aged paper sat inside the box.  Given the date of the company’s acquisition by Tandy, my guess is that the piece was manufactured less than 5 years after my Dad left there.

Dad’s been gone for 21 years and we weren’t especially close, but I find myself thinking about him more and more.  I find myself feeling proud of what he did.  I watch Tom Hanks' production of the HBO series The Pacific with appreciation for what he went through as a Marine on Okinawa.  I watch the Cubs with the World Series this year and thought of how his father – my grandfather – loved baseball (The Detroit Tigers).  I read science fiction and remember all the book shelves filled with 35 cent paperbacks he would read at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee and a cigarette.

My new wallet is simple.  Only two credit cards fill the slots.  It’s a bifold and carrying too much cash will stress the hinge (Ha!).  There’s no room for pictures in my new wallet – except for one of Nadine I tuck behind my driver’s license.  My best pictures are in my head and they are moving in form and emotional impact.  My new wallet is the best quality fashion accessory I have ever owned.  Best of all, it takes me back to a time when Dad would come home from work and I’d meet him at the car and race him to the door.

Thanks for the wallet, Dad!

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Hail to the King!

Today I watched the recording of Jack Nicklaus' eulogy for Arnold Palmer.  He said everyone who has a story of the King of Golf should share it.  So here's mine.

I grew up watching Arnold Palmer on TV but I finally got the chance to see him play live at the old Comfort Classic Senior Tour event at the Broadmoor Country Club in Indianapolis.  I took my young sons Jeremy (10) and Joshua (7) went with me.  We quickly learned the tee time for Mr. Palmer's group and followed him around the course.

It was a Saturday so it was the second tournament day (Senior events are 54 hole affairs).  Palmer started back in the pack but he was in top form that warm day.  He hit fairway after fairway with his drive and every green in regulation.  Bunkers didn't seem to exist before his pinpoint accuracy.  After a few routine pars he started making putts and by the end of the round he shot 6 under par.

I and the boys joined the ever-growing crowd, clapping for every straight drive and roaring every time he sank a long putt for birdie.  I could tell he was loving it.  He was putting on a great show as he climbed the leaderboard.  I found myself in awe of this icon of the game I still love.  Those were the days before the often boisterous golfing crowds of today that seem to draw attention away from the golfers to themselves.  I was proud that my sons got to see this great man do so well.

The last time I saw him play was after the event moved to the Brickyard Crossing course next to the Motor Speedway.  He was in a threesome with Gary Player and another golfer whose name I cannot recall.  They came to the 311 yard 14th hole and I stood not 15 feet away and listened to them talk while the group ahead finished up.  Then without further comment, Player took the honors and each of them drove the green.

Years later, I still stand over putts thinking, "And here's Arnold Palmer with a putt to win the Masters . . ."

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Happy Birthdays!

My Dad and my daughter Jessica share birthdays today.  She was nine years old when he died in 1995.  My family moved around a lot and we eventually settled at some distance from each other.  The result is that my parents did not get much time with our four kids (2-3 times a year on vacations).  There were no overnight sleep overs.  With us in the East and them in Michigan and later in Florida, we could never resort to them for free babysitting.  We have photos and scrapbooks of events but no deep-rooted routines of Sunday dinners together or sitting on the porch watching the fireflies rise or cheering from the bleachers together as one of the kids gets a hit or scores a basket.

I'm thankful that we connect with our grandkids more.  It has been a little easier with cell phones, the Internet, Skype, and more money to travel with.  Three of them lived with us for a whole year while their Dad was deployed (good memories, mostly).  We've recently finished repainting.

Two of our grandsons (6 and almost 4 years) are with us this morning after staying overnight.  Over pancakes and bacon with coffee and juice, I told them about today and that their great-grandpa's name was Donald.

"Donald Trump?" the older one said with bright eyes and a grin.

"No [showing him a different type of grin].  Are you watching too much TV or have your parents been talking?"

Another grin with no answer.

"His name was Donald Jarvis.  He was born in 1927 and was a Marine in World War II.  He fought to keep us safe."


I think that great-grandpa would have liked that.

I know he would have also helped me drink up the coffee.

Friday, September 30, 2016

A Reward for Persistence

Why won't this dream of writing (and having more than just my wife read my stuff) go away?  Why do I still subscribe to Writer's Digest?  Why do I buy second-hand memoirs of writers?  Why, when I'm at a yard sale, the first thing I look for is books?  Why is my image of retirement full of writing projects that I have come up with but now finally will have the time and energy to tackle?  I can tell that writing is a part of me because when I finally sit down and do it something happens.  The page fills and the words flow.  I even enjoy it when I'm editing the first surge of text that hits the page.

But I have a brisket that needs to be grilled for tomorrow's company, sweet potatoes that need digging from the garden, and a head cold that needs a good night's sleep.

"There's always tomorrow," I tell myself.  But every time I believe and act on those words, another Today slips away.  Another dozen brain cell die never to be resurrected.  Another T cell caps off and my life gets that much shorter.  Another good memory doesn't get made.

"Make the most of the time, because the days are evil (Ephesians 5:16).  Time dissipates before we know it.  The energy inherent in each moment is easily stolen by intruding urgencies.

I believe there is lasting power in written words, whether or not anyone around me reads them;  whether or not the world changes because of them (or much less pays me for them).  The real change happens in me as I encounter new places and people that did not exist before and I echo the sentiments of Another who could have done an infinite number of other things with Himself -- "It is very good."

Friday, February 19, 2016

Maybe there's something deeper than the struggle going on

Maybe it's my line of work for the last 36 years (pastoring and then as a healthcare chaplain) but I have become very familiar with a quote that I've heard attributed either to the Dalai Lama or Ian MacLaren: "Be kind; everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."

Perhaps you've seen the videos of people walking around with cartoon balloons over their heads full of comments like "Just been told he has cancer," "Recently divorced," or "Lost her job."  Such a message of compassion is sorely needed in this self-focused harsh world of today.  It could help us take a breath, give each other some space, or even close the gap.

But a thought occurs to me.  Is there a way to acknowledge this universal struggling but do it in a way that doesn't leave our pain and loss as our answer to our existential Final Jeopardy question?  Your struggle isn't my struggle so how can I really resonate with you apart from sharing a mutual sadness or frustration?  What is the point of this "battle" that engages everyone?  If we could discover that, it might fuel not only our compassion but also our hope. 

It makes a great difference which preposition we use here.  We can "struggle in," struggle about," "struggle with," and "struggle over."  If we stop here we are left as a kind of victim of circumstances.  We're just caught in an ennui in which the best we can do is distract ourselves with entertainments or deaden ourselves with numbing substances.

The great movements of humanity have spoken of a "struggle for."  If there is no for we might thrash against our pain but there is no purpose.  It was written of Jesus that it was "for the joy set before him he endured the cross, despising its shame." (Hebrews 12:2)  Jesus did not believe in the noble inevitability of pain.  He believed in what lay on the other side of his struggle against sin, the flesh, and the world.  The pain was a necessary part of redemption.  The gain was worth the pain.

And so I have started telling myself a different mantra: "Be hopeful.  Everyone you meet is fighting for a dream."  Some of us pursue this more wisely than others and too many of us settle for something far less than our heart's true desire (the dream God put there as a part of His image), but each of us is in the midst of a monumental effort to take hold of what Gary Gunderson has identified as five "leading causes of life":
  1. That my life would make sense (Cohesion)
  2. That my relationships would be fulfilling (Connectedness)
  3. That I can effect necessary change (Agency)
  4. That I can receive and impart life (Generativity)
  5. That I (and what matters to me) will continue in some way, some where (Hope)

I am finding that this perspective helps me connect with others with greater urgency and joy.  My brother's life may be incredibly hard right now.  I can feel sorry for him and give him my time to listen.  But what binds us at a deeper letter is the determined hope that this is not how things were designed to be.  That there is a profound hope that gives meaning to the struggle.  The Apostle Paul testified to this when he wrote "I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.."  He was willing to suffer "the loss of all things compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord."

The next time we meet, you may be in a good moment or in a hard place.  In either case, I will do the best I can to "Be hopeful.  He is fighting for a dream."  I hope you will do the same for me.

Friday, February 5, 2016

We become that which we love

I'm taking my cues for this post from two contemporary writers and one ancient tome.  The contemporary voices are James R. A. Smith (professor at Wheaton College) and Timothy Keller (Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, NY).  The ancient wisdom comes from Augustine (a 4th century Christian).

I look back at how I have become the kind of person I am today and know that the journey is not yet complete and that there have been serious missteps along the way, yet the product does look promising.  Whatever progress there is in me has come about because through it all the One who is Love has relentlessly pursued me and turned my face gently toward his in all circumstances, lest I give myself to that which would destroy me.

Augustine believed and taught that all people seek happiness and they attach themselves to things they believe will make them happy.  That attachment is experienced as love.  The main human problem arises when we misidentify what will make us happy.  This is what he would call the fact of sin.  We either love what we ought not to love, or we fail to love what we we ought to love, or we love more what we should love less, or we love less what we should love more.  For instance, if a business owner loves making money more than doing justice, she will exploit her workers or employees.  If a man loves his career more than his children, his family relationships will break down.

Augustine knew from experience that the source of all misery is that we and those around us do not love God supremely.  If we love anything at all in this world more than God, we will crush that object under the weight of our expectations and eventually break our own hearts.

Which brings me back to my experience.  I have loved many unworthy things in my life and it has cost me.  I still find myself attracted to that which doesn't deserve my devotion.   The Apostle John categorizes these doomed love trysts as "desires of the flesh," "desires of the eyes," and "the pride of life."  Pleasure, accumulation, and acclimation.  To love any or all is to doom myself to eventual dismay and loneliness.

John's fellow Apostle Paul once testified, "I don't fool myself into thinking that I have already attained this, but I press on to take hold that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me."

Someone I deeply care about has told me that he can no longer believe that the God he grew up hearing about really exists.  My mind went to all the things I have preached on to convince others of God's existence.  But all I could do in that moment was to speak out of my experience.  "All I can say is that I believe that the bottom line of the universe is that there is a God who loves us and wants us to know Him."

I confess that I have not resembled this God at times.  I spent too long loving my work, my reputation, my pleasures, my privacy, and my resentments even as I preached and taught of Jesus. God's grace ameliorated much of the damage, but sadly, my mishapened soul failed to consistently reveal the true beauty and magnificence of the One whose image I bore and who I wanted to become more like.

I'm 58 now and I am grateful that God continues to woo and win.  He faithfully gives taste after taste of Himself and I am learning at this late season that He alone is worthy.  That the only love that lasts is for Him who is eternal.  That not even death will interfere with this ever deepening relationship.

Augustine got it right seventeen centuries ago: "You have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you."

Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Truth is Still Out There

Tonight marks the return of X-Files in the form of a six-episode mini-series on FOX.  To get ready I watched the last episode of the ninth season, originally broadcast on May 19, 2002.

F.B.I Special Agent Fox Mulder spends nine years (at least the nine we are privy to) believing that “the truth is out there.”  In the end, he does the only thing that makes sense.  The final scene shows him in a hotel room with his best friend in the world, Agent Dana Scully.  They have traveled to every corner of the globe, encountered the best and worst in people, and had their cosmic worldviews irreversibly altered.  The two of them are frightened to the end of hope by what they have experienced.

Scully asks him if he has learned that all he suspected was actually true, then what was it that he believed.  It is then that Mulder reaches for the necklace Scully wears and takes her Christian cross in his hand.  Dana speaks the last words of the epic series: “Maybe there is hope.” 

If Fox Mulder becomes a believer in Jesus Christ it will be a truly genuine conversion.  It will not be a “things go better with Jesus” faith which is popularly marketed to today’s religious consumer.  It will be a faith that has been fought for and worth dying with, where the tough questions of reality are wrestled with in light of Christ’s claim to be “the way, truth and life.”  It is the faith that God wants us to have.  It is the kind Jesus promised when he said, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.”

After nine years, Fox Mulder knows that real life is terrifying and ultimately absurd if humans are on their own.  In the end, He takes up the cross.  He has the answer. 

I still don't believe that human beings resulted from a piece of Mars that crashed into the Earth, but I think somewhat better of Chris Carter now.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Let it Snow?

The weatherperson says that the mid-Atlantic coast is getting a blizzard right now.  We lived in WV for five years (1979-1984) and then Northern Virginia for five more years (1984-1989). It was October 10, 1979 when I looked out my window at our first nor'easter winter storm.  I looked across US Highway 33 at the little building belonging to the church I had come to serve three months previously.  It was wrapped up tight in about a foot and a half of the white stuff.  Smoke from scores of wood-fired stoves rose gently into the air of Brandywine, WV.  The regular train of turkey trucks disappeared as those semis couldn't get back to the coliseum-sized barns in which their treasure gobbled.  My 1967 blue  Camaro rested under a fluffy blanket.  We were content to sit it out, even though we had only one TV channel.

Nadine and I had arrived there in July to begin our first ministry.  Those 70+ souls were getting to know us and we them.  Next summer things would start hopping with the holding of our first Vacation Bible School.  We would discover that there were lots of kids in that little town and lots of parents trying to do the right thing by them.  Our kids wouldn't begin to arrive for another two years.

That was 37 years ago.  Somewhere along the way, I discovered something called the Johari Window.  It was created by a duo of psychologists in 1955 to help us understand how we relate with ourselves and with others.  In our marriage and in our church we were working to open the windows.  We didn't know how much we didn't know, but that's where the power of extended grace comes in.  It softens hard edges so the cuts aren't so deep.  It slows the rush to judgment and allows you to focus on what is right in front of you.

May God look after the people of Washington, Baltimore, New York and other neighborhoods especially if they are "out in it" tending the various fires that make human life possible these days.  When they get home tonight (or tomorrow morning) may they be greeted by loving faces looking for them through their windows.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

On the Threshold

Why do things we look long upon with disinterest suddenly zoom in and become priority to us?  How is that something we have discounted as improbable or impossible transform quickly into "want tos" and even "have tos"?

It's not time to pack our bags yet, but before Spring gets very old Nadine and I will travel to the center of the world and visit the land of Israel.  I could thank Mike Canny for sharing how traveling there deepened his walk with Christ.  I could thank Nadine for buying our tickets (it's her savings that makes this possible)!  I must thank God for giving us the health and opportunities over the last ten years that allow us such special experiences.

Israel is a place we have spent our lives learning, teaching and (in my case) preaching about.  We have walked spiritually with Jesus since we were children.  Like the bards of old, we have sung the songs of Zion and told the tales of the Fathers across five states and to uncounted audiences of children and adults.  It's the Story that brought us together and that we have sought to live into for forty years.  Now we get to walk where Abraham, Jacob, David, Ruth, Mary and Jesus walked.  We will eat as they ate (no dairy and meat at the same table), but our accommodations will be beyond their imagining.

I referred to Israel as "the center of the world."  Look at any typical world map. 

The Middle East (and Israel in particular) sits right in the middle, at the joining of Asia, Africa and Europe, with the Americas shoved off to the left side.  Over thousands of years the Christian faith has spread across the world, yet unto today millions of believers have made their way to Israel/Palestine to visit and even to live.

Now it is our turn.  I don't know what we will sense when we set foot on the ground in Tel Aviv, or when we sail across the Sea of Galilee, or climb Mts. Carmel and Moriah, or when we wade into the Dead Sea, or sit on the Mount of Olives.  Our group will spend time each evening reflecting on where we have been that day.  I believe that the One we have taught about, believed upon, and prayed to will reveal Himself to us as we best need now.  That's true regardless of wherever we are in His world.

Monday, January 18, 2016

An essay I recently wrote for the local paper

In an attempt to re-energize my blogging, I offer this sample of what is to come . . .
Many people knew Donald Jarvis over the sixty-seven years of his life.  He was the first-born son to my grandparents Grace and Jerrie.  Seventeen years later he became a fellow Marine among the few and the proud.  He was a skilled machinist most of his work life.  He was a crafty euchre player and an artist who worked beauty on canvas and with precious stones.  Three different women knew him as husband (the second being my mother).  Six of us knew him as father.

The night before his crucifixion, John remembered Jesus saying something that has caused no little controversy since then: “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”  (John 14:6)  At different times, Jesus made it clear that the life God calls us to is neither simple nor easy.  He spoke of a needle’s eye and a narrow way.  He called his followers to denial of self and hatred of life in this world.  On first glance, his words on this last night before his crucifixion seem to draw a severe line in the sand that excludes many who never hear of Him or who are not inclined to follow.

We need to note what occupied Jesus’ thoughts that night.  “In my Father’s house . . .” “Show us the Father . . .”  The word “Father” in reference to God appears forty-five times in these three chapters (John 14-16), mostly from the lips of Jesus.  Maybe Jesus’ urgency was not that we just find our way to heaven when we die or believe in “God” as we might imagine Him.  But that we “come to the Father.”

In his last night with these men who will soon launch His Church, Christ wants them to always remember that the kingdom of God consists primarily not of a destination or a dogma or anything we can claim to own and keep in our pocket, but of an eternal relationship that produces everything of worth.

Whether then or now, people present themselves as on good terms with “God” through spiritual systems of their own making.  Jesus knows this.  He also knows where He has come from and where He is going (John 13:3).  And so He says that if they want to know the Father, they must pay attention to Him.

You can view my father’s paintings that adorn the walls of my house.  My wife often wears rings he made for her.  But only his children can share with you what life was like with him as a father.

This is where my personal analogy falls short.  My father died twenty years ago.  He left no letters behind that explain his thinking.  His surviving sister and brother’s memories are fading.  My siblings and I have mined all we know of each other’s experience and our recollections of him are as imperfect as he was.  Full appreciation of his story awaits the day when we will know perfectly, even as we are perfectly known (I Corinthians 13:12).

In contrast, Jesus offers a way to the Father that is unerring.  His truth about the Father is complete and His life with the Father is unendingly full of joy.  Jesus wants to share this intimacy with us.  This is what Christians stake their hopes upon.  This is what fuels their love and renews their faith.

Jesus offers a quality of relationship that until now only He has known.  For three years the disciples observed this living relationship. Their interest may have started with amazement at his miracles or a hope that Jesus would lead Israel to a new era of greatness or even a selfish clamoring for places of privilege.  In a few hours they will witness his absolute trust in His Father’s will.  Over the years they will grasp how necessary it was that he be crucified and raised again so that the Father and his estranged creation be reconciled.

John records Jesus’ words in the negative: “no one can . . . except . . .”  They could just as well had been phrased “everyone can come to the Father through me.”  Are these words a line in the sand or an invitation?  I believe that it’s not enough for our Maker that the whole world bows before him in submission.  He’d rather have us climb into his lap like those little children of whom Jesus said the kingdom belongs.