I called him Uncle David – but in retrospect, I should have called him Mr. Wonderful.
It was his answer every time you asked him how he was doing – I can still hear his gentle voice tinged with joy, “well, I’m wonderful, darling!”
And it’s how he made us feel. Just plain wonderful. So this morning, as I process the news that Mr. Wonderful is now with His Savior, I find myself rejoicing in that beautifully gentle spirit he carried – but I have so many questions…
I didn’t know my Uncle David in his younger years. I didn’t know him when he fought in Vietnam, and I don’t know the horrors he lived through there. Those were memories he didn’t want to re-live, and that’s where it stayed. And I didn’t know him well as I was growing up – he was my Uncle, but I was on the other side of the world and saw him only every few years.
But as life weaves a beautiful tapestry around us so often, it brought my life and his closer, and I was blessed over the past few years to get to spend more time with this amazing man.
He called my kids silly names like “McGillicuty”. He made them laugh and brought so much joy to all of us. He poured life and love and goodness out on us in unending measure. And that’s what my heart can’t get over this morning as I sit here grasping for words in the midst of my tears. That impossible joy in the face of a life filled with much sorrow. How does that happen? I know it’s not an accident.
Because we all know the natural course of a human heart. Pain causes us to close up and grow hard. Life hurts, so we grow a shell around our spirits to protect us. Anger begets anger and we so often find ourselves in a vicious cycle of pain. So when you see a man who exudes joy and gentleness in the midst of such hardness, you have to stop and ask “why?” Or maybe the better question is “how ?”
He endured much pain. Marked by a hard a brutal war when he was young. He tragically lost his grandson a few years ago. His own beloved son died suddenly just last year. He suffered physically, carrying effects of Agent Orange in his body as well as many other struggles. When life hit hard and seemed to overwhelm, he would simply hug me and say he loved me. I would ask him how he’s hanging on, and he would say, “how can it help to be angry?” He knew the best protection of a soul comes in staying open – but how?
He must have known a secret. A life giving, beautiful secret that the rest of us need to remember. How do we best remember Uncle David? By making sure his spirit is carried on. He was a special man – and the greatest tragedy would be to let that special spirit die with him. Because what keeps flooding my heart and mind is this: the secret he had is available to all of us. And we honor Uncle David best by finding it and preserving it and letting it mark our own hearts.
In light of a hard life, he responded with gentleness and peace. It makes me think of these words, “the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” These words mark how I remember my Uncle David, and I think this is the secret that he would want to pass on to all of us. How did he do it? I see the answer in the next few words… “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with it’s passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:22-25) I believe Uncle David made a choice to let the Spirit of God shape his heart, and though he wasn’t perfect, he kept in step with the Spirit of God. He reflected a different Spirit than the world has to offer, and we were all marked by that.
I can’t quite stop the tears from flowing this morning. I’m thankful my precious Uncle David is no longer living in such pain, however I will desperately miss him and the light he carried. But I also know it’s not completely snuffed out. Because the Spirit of God that lived in him is alive. And there is no darkness it cannot enter and no hardness it cannot touch. And I know the best way we honor the legacy of this amazing man is to let that Spirit change us in the same way.
So here I sit at the foot of the cross. Here I reflect on the words that offer freedom – “if you declare with your mouth ‘Jesus is Lord’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9) and this – “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8) Oh! and these beautiful words that many know but it takes a lifetime to fully grasp – “For God so loved ___________________ (put your name in here) that He gave His only Son (Jesus), that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life!” (John 3:16)
The everlasting life is what Uncle David is experiencing right now. The changed life is what we got to experience through him all these years. I find myself sitting here on this rainy fall morning asking my Jesus anew to form and shape this spirit that gets twisted by circumstances into a spirit molded by Him. Knowing that in the midst of the unbearable pain life brings us at times, there is freedom on the other side. Uncle David is seeing it unveiled with his own eyes for the first time, but he tasted and reflected the beauty of it all these years. And I want to reflect more of it today and tomorrow and the next. In honor of Uncle David. In honor of the Savior he loved so very much.
Oh – and Uncle David? Say hi to grandma and grandpa for me!!
That beautiful pasture with the green grass that runs down into the “holler”. The field that seems to go on forever now holds a deep red scar of dirt and mud. As I looked at the fresh dirt torn out of the beautiful green field, my eyes filled with tears.
Please don’t be sad for me. These were tears of joy. And that’s the great paradox of it all.
You see, I have waited 15 long years for this day. This day of breaking. The promise was there, the vision never faded. But in the sovereignty of God, the time was not right – until now. But now – oh rejoice with me! Now they are breaking through, turning over dirt, preparing the field.
I’ve seen the plans. I have held the blueprints for what will come. And the building that will rise on that freshly disturbed soil is beautiful. Not just in it’s physical design, but in purpose. And when I think of all that God can do in that place, my heart skips a beat.
I have never been happier to see green grass replaced by rocky piles of red dirt. And I just can’t stop thinking about it.
That morning when they dug into the dirt and my eyes saw visions of a beautiful building? That same morning, my eyes caught sight of a simple verse lying on a page – “You are God’s building” (1 Co 3:9). I caught my breath in wonder, because the meaning is unavoidable. The timing was divine. You don’t need me to spell it out for you – it’s as clear as the sun coming up over the horizon.
I saw before me the green pastures I have carefully manicured in my own life. The plans I had crafted and all the places I have desperately tried to control. I thought of all the times God has dug deep and turned over that soil. Destroying that beautiful green grass and replaced it with a rough scar of red dirt. Some of those scars continue to be fresh and I often wonder why? One can survey a field of unexplained destruction in their life and wonder how a good God can let such things happen.
“What’s that on the ground?” He sings in the background. “It’s what’s left of my heart. Somebody named Jesus broke it to pieces and planted the shards” (Andrew Peterson)
“Even when I call out or cry for help, He shuts out my prayer. He has barred my way with blocks of stone; He has made my paths crooked…” cries the prophet Jeremiah. “So I say, “My splendor is gone and all that I had hoped from the Lord.” (Jeremiah in Lamentations 3:8-9;18)
Are you sitting in a ruined field surrounded by destruction today? Does your life look so different from the one you had envisioned? Does your carefully manicured field, those dreams you once held so valuable now lie in ruin around you? My friend, lift up your eyes! There is hope beyond this mess – our shortsighted eyes may not be able to see it yet – but that doesn’t mean the blueprint doesn’t exist. Beyond that broken red scar of turned up soil lies a promise.
The vision for what will be springs up beautiful and bold in my heart, and thus the destruction becomes a sign of hope.
In the middle of these December days, when the darkness comes early and the air brings a chill, what is God turning over in your life? Right here in the middle of Advent, does your heart beat faster at the sound of Hope? Can we find Him in the middle of our mess and start to anticipate the beauty that will rise on the other side rather than just weep for the destruction of our carefully manicured, controlled spaces?
I think about that verse God started my day with – “You are God’s building” What if I just let it all go? Stopped asking why about all the messy places and started just trusting Him in the middle of the mess? What if I allow the Great Architect to dig up all those places in my life that I have clung to so He can build what He designed so many years ago – since the beginning of time? What if?
I remember Jeremiah and his anguish over the loss in his life. In the midst of his darkest days, how does Jeremiah respond? “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” (Lamentations 3:21-24)
And Andrew Peterson sings on in the background ….
“And they’re coming up green, And they’re coming in bloom I can hardly believe this is all coming true.
Just as I am and just as I was Just as I will be He loves me, He does He showed me the day that He shed His own blood.
It’s a long, complicated road, isn’t it? This thing we call life. Yet we trip along, thinking we know where we’re going, with lofty plans and daring dreams.
They say hindsight is 20/20 – sometimes it can serve as a guidebook for how to go forward. These are the stones of remembrance that we set along the way as we go – to remind us of what to hold onto when the waves threaten to take us under.
I’m thinking back to those reckless and wandering days when I lived in Amsterdam, eager to share my Jesus with everyone I could. Those were the days my opportunities were as big as my dreams and the world was a playground. Those were also the days the imbalances in my heart were coming to the surface and I started to lose my way. When your 20 years haven’t prepared you for when your world tips sideways, how do you determine what is true? How do you stop your mind from tunneling into wormholes you can’t find your way out of, with its obsessive thoughts and restless wanderings? I’ve lived many trips around the sun since those days – yet do you feel it with me? Like the world is tipping sideways once again?
Those were the days when I learned a lesson that has shaped my life at many different junctures. A stone was established that I have clung to many times. And I turn there once again. Because I’m guessing you feel it like I do. The voices coming from all directions. They’re telling us to believe a multitude of opposing viewpoints. They can get your mind tunneling into wormholes you can’t get out of and keep you awake at night with obsessive thoughts and restless wanderings that seem to find no end. The anger can seep into your soul and the defensive posture can rob you of any joy you have left.
Do you feel it? The tension all around? When Jesus said that we are in the world but not of the world, I suspect this is part of what He was talking about. So the rock that I cling to? Don’t laugh at the me for the simplicity – maybe just go there with me and breathe deeply of the freedom. From the mouth of David, I hear these words – “lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” Psalm 61:2
There is a Rock that rises above the fray. A Truth that gives us a firm foundation to stand on. Brothers and sisters, why do we turn to political ideologies and competing theories that abound in all directions when there is a Truth that cannot be shaken? When the news cycle brings us changing perspectives and disappointing information on a daily basis, repeat with me this simple fact: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever”. When you open your social media account to the frenzy of accusations and anger, repeat it again: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” When the anger threatens to consume your own soul, repeat it yet again. Because this, my friend, is how you keep your head when the world is tipping sideways. Find your foundation and cling to it at all costs.
This means, knowing your reason for being. Jesus was 12 when He disappeared from a caravan of people doing what they usually do. He broke the mold and walked a different path. When He was finally found, His simple answer to their concerned questions was “Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49)
Can we all take a deep breath and talk about this for a minute?
What does it mean to be about our Father’s business? As I sat in church 10 years ago on that typical Sunday morning, listening to Gary Smalley talk, I had no idea he was about to forever change the posture of my walk with Jesus. He said words that morning that have shifted the way I see my role in this world. He talked that morning about “building a life according to the guidelines of Scripture”.
Again, please resist the urge to read on too quickly because the simplicity of that statement seems like something we all really know. Stop and read that again – Building a life on Scripture alone. Sola Scriptura – that means not in response to the world around you. Not in response to other’s expectations of you. Not in response to your culture or your family’s patterns. Simply a life built on what our Creator says. Pure and simple. Direct and unmuddied. Jesus said “Seek first the Kingdom of God” (Mt 6:33). C.S. Lewis put it like this – “Put first things first and second things will follow. Put second things first and you lose both first and second things.” I feel like we’ve been focusing an awful lot on second things, and we stand to lose it all. Let’s peel back the layers and get back to what really matters.
Do you feel it? That tremendous weight lifting? The clarity settling in? I’m not talking easy – it’s the hardest task you can undertake. But it’s clear. It goes something like this:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:6-7)
“Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Heb 10:24)
I’ve been camping around this one a lot lately – “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (Phil 4:8) Pull up a chair with me, let’s savor this a bit. We need to care for the state of our souls these days – is there any better help than choosing to reign in our thoughts and turning them to the pure, the lovely, the admirable?
Now – turning outward:
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouth but only what is helpful for building others up, that it may benefit those who listen” (Eph 4:29) (emphasis added)
“Warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else. Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thess 5:14)
“… guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge,” (1 Tim 6:20)
“Keep reminding God’s people of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly… Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels.” (2 Tim 2:14)
Let me be extremely bold here. Did you notice that very rarely do any of these statements involve a reaction to anything or anyone? This is a simple clarion call for us on how we ought to live, regardless of how others choose to live, what they say, or how they treat us.
That means, this is for you, follower of Jesus.
Regardless of whether you voted for this president or the previous one.
Regardless of whether you support a vaccine or not.
Regardless of whether you listen to CNN or Fox news.
Regardless of whether you wear a mask or choose not to.
Regardless of any of your feelings on the culture wars that rage around us.
Because we all need Jesus. And those of us who claim the name of Jesus all live under the same guidebook – so let’s stop pretending that it’s ok to set up in different camps and hurl stones at each other. We all have been created by God for good works which He prepared in advance for us to do. (Eph 2:10) So my question to you is this: What is that good work that He has prepared for you to do? And how are we doing at that?
Let us remember for a moment, that every person who lives and breathes on this planet carries the imprint of God. “Let us make man in our image”, God said in those first days of creation. There is not a soul on this wide earth who skipped over that step. Imago Dei – the image of God. At what point does someone’s political belief or view on current cultural issues give me the right to speak of them in any way other than as someone who carries the imprint of God and is worthy of my respect based on that fact alone? Lewis understood that the eternal destination of every person we meet should color our every interaction when he said, “It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”
Can we get back to simple basic foundations? And just do that? Let the pundits talk. Let the world spin sideways if it will. Our simple following of a simple truth will do much more good in this world than all the accusations made on social media, all the forwarding of angry opinions and all the defensive posturing. “For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king” (1 Peter 2:15) A little context makes that statement even more powerful. This is the the same Peter who cut off someone’s ear while trying to defend Jesus. This is written in the days when followers of Jesus were being used as human torches and Nero was on a rampage to destroy Christianity. Keep that in mind, put it in persepective with where things are at in our world today, and please, go read it again.
A world is changed when hearts change. I have rarely seen a heart change in response to anger or accusation, but I have witnessed many hearts changed by lifting Jesus up high in all His winsome love, tender mercy and forgiving grace. I have seen one wounded soul declare to another that there is Hope and His name is Jesus. That there is no sorrow or pain that is not covered by the blood of Jesus on the cross. That there is healing when we discover who He created us to be and lay our baggage at the foot of the cross. That trickle of person to person can turn into a wave that can change a country, even a world when they’re not looking. We know our call, we know our Creator, we know the task at hand. Let’s just do that and trust God with the rest.
Is this not enough to occupy an entire life? Of course we need to be well informed and engaged like the men of Issachar from 1 Chronicles 12. But is our myopia deafening us to the cries of the world around us?
What are we spending the majority of our energy on? Where do we expend our passion? Our influence? When someone walks away from being with you, how do they feel? Have you invested in their soul? Their eternity? What conversations would Jesus be engaging in right now? Let’s go there with Him and not let the brush fires around us pull us away from the battle for people’s souls at home and around the world.
Brothers and sisters who carry the name of Jesus, let’s fill the minutes of our lives with what matters for eternity. With what can change the state of a heart for ever. Not what might win us an argument today. “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season… keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.” (2 Tim 4:2) “
For now, I’m out of words. I’ll just leave this here, with the words of Jesus – “Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” Mt 5:14