Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Life is but a vapor...

Hello my crazy friends,

I've not written for a while, and for that you have my apologies. If you follow this blog, even occasionally, I'm sure you've gotten tired of logging on and seeing that Mike still hasn't gotten around to sit down for even a few quiet moments to reflect and write. I'll try to do better.

Many of you know that I am a police chaplain and that I often get called into messy situations. A few days ago I had one of those. I was riding with an officer on afternoon shift when we got a call about a traffic fatality. Arriving on the scene we discovered that the deceased was a young woman who had suffered a motorcycle accident on the freeway and died almost instantly. I can't go into details but that scene has bothered me for days. It was a beautiful sunny day in Portland--no rain, dry pavement, the smell of blossoms in the air--and suddenly, with no warning, life stopped for that young woman. In that moment she was rocketed into eternity with no time for any kind of prayer or preparation.

My role at the scene was mainly to deal with her boyfriend, who was understandably traumatized by the accident. They had been traveling together but riding two different motorcycles. He witnessed the whole thing in his rear view mirror. She started to wobble, lost control, and crashed into a cement retaining wall, which broke her neck. That kind of traffic accident is handled by the police as though it were a crime scene even though no one else is involved, requiring the bureau criminalists to take pictures, do exact measurements, map the whole area, pick up anything that might be evidence, and keep a crime scene log of any officers or investigators who cross the yellow tape. As you can imagine, all of that detailed analysis takes time, which means that for several hours the victim was lying there by the side of the road covered by a yellow tarp with only her hands and boots visible.

However, after the medical examiner finally arrived we barricaded the area with police vehicles to block the view of passing motorists while he made his on-scene examination. When he finished, I along with a couple of officers helped the ME put her into a body bag and onto a gurney, which we then loaded into his van. While the ME examined her the officers and I stood there watching, and it just confirmed again for me that death is an enemy, any way you stack it. For her life to be snuffed out so quickly, and on such a day--it was hard for all of us to accept.

For some reason her face has stuck in my mind, and since that afternoon I have been thinking a lot about life, and about how quickly and violently it can end. James 4:14 says, "What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes." How true that is. Life comes with no guarantee, no warranty card. None of us knows how long we have to live, and every breath, every beat of our heart is a God-given gift.

Most of us live as though we were bullet-proof, as though nothing could happen to us. Oh sure, bad stuff happens to other people but it can't touch us. Nothing could be further from the truth. Life is a mist, a vapor, like Oregon fog. The more you try to grab onto it the more it slips through your fingers. The more you attempt to put your fingers around it, the more illusive it becomes.

So where am I going with this rambling narrative? Nowhere except to say that all of us need to keep short accounts--with God and with our loved ones. If death should overtake me the way it did that young woman a few days ago I don't want have any "I love yous" left unspoken. If God should call me home I don't want to arrive on Heaven's shore with a red face because of hidden sins in my life that I had been planning to take care of with God but never got a chance. I want to leave here with no regrets and arrive there clean. Does that make sense?

The older I get and the longer I do police chaplaincy the easier it becomes for me to tell people I love them. I don't want to miss a single opportunity because I just might not get another one. And I think I'm doing better at staying in touch with the Lord too. Heaven doesn't seem far away to me anymore, like it did when I was a kid. Since my folks died and went to be with Jesus, Heaven seems very near.

I don't know if that young woman knew the Lord. I sure hope so.

Still crazy,

Friday, April 11, 2008

Eternity In My Heart

Hello my friends,

This week I said goodbye to my parents, yet again. As many of you know, my mom went to be with the Lord on August 1, 2005 and my dad joined her on May 26, 2006. In their Living Trust I was named their successor trustee and given the responsibility of finalizing their affairs after their deaths. I had known for years that I would one day be faced with this task but I did not know that it would affect my emotions as deeply as it has.

After Dad died, my sister, Janis, and I began the painful job of going through the folks' house in Vancouver and making the thousands of decisions about how to dispose of their belongings. That took us months and cost us many tears. Then, after the house was finally empty, we began the long project of remodeling and preparing the house for sale. Again, that took months and countless hours of labor. And all during that time I could feel the folks' presence in that house because of all the happy hours we spent with them there.

So on Wednesday after signing the final papers for the sale of the house I drove over there for the last time to pick up a lamp that I had left there, and to do a final walk-through to make sure that everything was in order for the new owners. However, I was not prepared for the emotional impact that last visit to their house would make on me. As I walked through the house, room by room, I could see my mom and dad there. I could visualize their furniture and see my mom's beautiful things sitting all around. Even though the rooms were empty, in my mind's eye I could see Dad's desk and his books lining the shelves. I could hear their voices. In the dining room I could see the big table where we shared many meals together and spent hours afterward playing "Chicken-foot" or "Ten-thousand." I could see Mom's chair where she spent hours reading or studying God's Word and praying.

There is an old Gospel song that says, "This world is not my home, I'm just a passin' through. My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue. The angels beckon me from Heaven's open door and I can't feel at home in this world anymore." I find that as I get older and have to keep saying goodbye to people I love, my ties to this world and present life become more tenuous. Though I do not consider myself to be "old," yet when I do the math I start to realize that I know more people in Heaven than I do down here. When I was younger I had absolutely no interest in Heaven. Oh sure, I wanted to go there eventually and knew that Christ was preparing a place for me there, but I didn't give much thought to it. Now I find myself thinking about it a lot, wondering what it will be like, and looking forward not only to seeing the Lord but also to seeing some people that I miss a great deal.

There is a verse that has intrigued me for a long time. It is found in Ecclesiastes 3:11 and it says, "He [God] has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end." That phrase, "He has set eternity in the hearts of men," is the part that especially fascinates me. What does it mean? To me it says that God has given me, as His child, an eternal perspective and a divinely given homesickness for Heaven. As a new creation in Christ I now have a personal relationship with the eternal Creator God of the universe. I am an eternal being who will spend eternity with Him. The better I get to know Him, the more my mind focuses on eternal things rather than temporal things. The older I get the more I become aware that all that separates this life from eternity is a thin veil, one breath, one heartbeat. In fact, eternity is very near to us, no matter how old we are. We are never more than a heartbeat away from eternity. For those of us who know the Lord Jesus, that thought should be a great comfort. For those who do not know Him and have not made provision for where they will spend eternity, that thought must be frightening indeed. I hope all of you have eternity set in your hearts too, like I do.

Crazy for Heaven,

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Sit, Walk, Stand

Hello my crazy friends,

I have not written for quite a while because I have been a bit under the weather, as the old saying goes. Somehow I managed to hurt my back two weeks ago, resulting in a badly ruptured disk between the L4 and L5 vertebrae. It has been an unpleasant ride, let me tell you. For a few days the pain was so intense that I could not sit, walk, stand, or even lie down without experiencing white-knuckle, teary-eyed, bad-words kind of pain. However, praise the Lord, since Monday I have been feeling much better. I'm finally off the brain-fog inducing pain meds and am able to function almost normally, thanks to those wonderful modern pharmaceuticals and answered prayer. After a week at home recouperating I came back to work on Monday to be greeted with an enormous pile of junk mail and my inbox jammed full of emails. It is amazing how quickly that stuff piles up.

I'm not telling you this to elicit sympathy; rather, just letting you know where I've been and why I've neglected the blog. Heaven knows, I'm not the only one around with back pain. I have discovered that it is a very common ailment, and many people have it much worse than I. However, being laid up like this has given me extra time to think and wrestle with the questions we all have when we are in pain; namely, "Why me, Lord? Don't You know that I have too many things on my plate to accomplish for You to sit around home waiting for my back to heal up?"

Obviously, patience is not one of the virtues I possess. I hate feeling useless. I hate waiting. I hate going to the doctor. I hate using my father's cane just to walk across the room. I hate not being able to drive because I am doped up on pain killers. Do you get my point? I don't know how to suffer gracefully. Please pray for me to mature in this area of my Christian life and to not be so performance-driven abd goal-oriented that I fail to see the greater fruit that God wants to produce in me through this little taste of suffering.

When I was thinking about my not being able to sit, walk, or stand because of the pain in my back and hip, I was reminded of a little book by Watchman Nee entitled, Sit, Walk, Stand a study of the Epistle to the Ephesians. In it he looks at these three little words and how Paul uses them in his letter to the Ephesian church.

SIT (Our position in Christ)--We are seated with Christ in the heavenly realms (Eph. 2:6)
("But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus, in order that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus." Eph. 2:4-7)

WALK (Our life in the world)-- We are to walk in a manner worthy of our calling ("I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called." Eph. 4:1)
  • We are to walk in LOVE: "Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you, and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma." Eph. 5:1
  • We are to walk in LIGHT: "For you were formerly darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light." Eph. 5:8
  • We are to walk in WISDOM: "Therefore, be careful how you walk--not as unwise men but as wise." Eph. 5:15
STAND (Our attitude to the enemy)-- We are to take our stand against the enemy (Eph. 6:11)
("Finally, be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, that you may be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil." Eph. 6:10-11)

That's what it's all about. We have to keep remembering that from God's perspective we are already seated with Christ in Heaven. That knowledge gives us confidence to walk in faith and obedience until He comes back to take us home, and gives us the courage we need to take our stand daily against the nefarious schemes of the devil and the flesh.

Still crazy,