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.