James 4:8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
My Dad – for years we called him Leebo – is celebrating his first anniversary in Heaven tonight. I felt the grip of his hand in mine go limp at 10:17pm Central Time, February 2, 2010. What a year it has been! Like most major events in our lives, it sometimes seems like it’s been five years and at other times, like just a few weeks. I thank God for the relationship we had and that I still feel very close to him today. In the 52 Christmases that we were both alive, there was only one we didn’t spend together. Of the 53 birthdays I had during his life, there was one that we weren’t together. And I never let him forget that one either!
God began preparing me for a post-Leebo life about eight years ago. Sitting in the hot tub at our house in the suburbs of Washington DC with my sweetie, talking about life, I tossed out the idea that we should move to Arkansas. Thank God for putting sweetie in this world for me; she said “Okay, if that’s what you want to do.” So, God then had us physically where He wanted us.
He then brought on a series of health issues for both of my parents. Those trials and tribulations caused us to be together even more, caused them to rely more on us, and made all of us think about what’s really important and to value the time together. Now God had us spending more quality time together.
Two of my nephews planted a new church. As we didn’t have a church home, and had been frustrated in some nominal efforts to find one, we went to the new church. And it became our home. God used the nephews, the congregation – that body we call Journey Church – to reach our hearts. Our faith grew and grew as we listened to Sunday sermons, participated in a home group Bible study, and became interested in getting in His Word on a regular basis. Now God had our hearts.
Leebo had been in pain for the last few years, was frustrated with a loss in quality of life, and particularly after we made a home at Journey Church, he was ready to claim victory and go on to His reward. I’m pretty sure Jesus didn’t take him sooner because He didn’t have me where I needed to be. But when He did, Leebo said goodbye and his grip went limp.
It has been a full 365 days of learning how to “come near to God” and inviting him to “come near to [me]” … of learning how to “humble [myself] before the Lord” and let Him “lift [me] up.” In a blog post last fall I wondered “How Will He Do It This Time”. By that I meant how was God going to make something good from a bad situation. We know He will; we have His promise of that in Romans 8:28 (“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him…”). Of course Leebo’s passage into eternal life is only “bad news” to those of us left behind. He has achieved the ultimate victory, arrived at the ultimate destination, and that has to bring joy to our hearts.
God’s Word tells us that our worldly perspective is 180 degrees off on so many things. I think a default perspective on life can be “if the world values it, God does not.” We need to test the specifics in scripture, but I’m thinking it’s a starting hypothesis to work from. Here’s some support for my position:
- God’s Word tells us about eternal life as something beyond our highest expectations. Our ultimate destination. No more worries, no pain, no sorrow. The world sees death in this world as the end, not the beginning.
- Then there’s Jesus’ command to love our enemies. The world plots against its enemies and tries to eliminate them.
- And Jesus’ command that we are to forgive everyone in our prayers so that God will forgive us. The world has us getting even and being ever watchful and suspicious and being distrustful of those who wronged us.
- The Word tells us to be thankful in all circumstances; to rejoice and be joyous. The world is like a yo-yo, being happy at good outcomes and unhappy at bad ones. And always thanking and blaming the wrong source.
- Jesus taught servant leadership. He washed the disciples’ feet. He put others’ needs ahead of His own. Our leaders think leadership is about domination, control, intimidation, and is very much attuned to the unwritten pecking order that values people according to their power base.
- God requires we humble ourselves and submit to His will and obey His commands. The world sees that as being weak; that the preferred action is bragging on yourself and attributing good outcomes to your own actions.
- And of course persecution! Jesus tells Christians to expect it and to rejoice when being treated as our Lord was treated. He tells us the persecuted will inherit the Kingdom of Heaven. The Bible is a history of persecution – Old and New Testaments alike. It’s clear that since the first church in Acts, God has used persecution to build His church. And He continues to do so today. Christians are to encourage and support the persecuted. The world only sees the tragedy of pain, of suffering, of death.
- And that’s just a few examples!
In the last year, as I’ve come close to God – closer than I’ve ever been – as He has drawn me close and lifted me up, those are a few of the breadcrumbs He has revealed to me. I read His Word daily, I study it most days, and I pray, asking what God would have me do next. He has worked on my impatience (yes I know His timing is perfect!) and on my need to control everything (it’s about Him and His plan, not about me!). He has given me the opportunity and the words to deliver a sermon – at my and my parents’ boyhood church, at my parents’ and son’s family’s church home, at a nephew and niece’s church, and twice at my home church. And He gave me the courage and voice to sing with a niece at three of those services. He gave me a heart for the persecuted church, led me to the Open Doors ministry, sent me to training, and gave me time from work to volunteer in this area.
My Dad – Leebo – continues to be everywhere in my life. I’ve always been the family photographer, so my pictures screensaver surfaces a photo of Dad several times a day. Pictures are in albums. Pictures are on the walls. As I pause from writing, I look up and see a poster-sized print of the four generations of us: Dad proudly standing in the front center with one of his classic silly smiles, me, my two sons, and their three sons. I’ve been wearing his 1950 high school class ring for the last year and when I get ready for work tomorrow, I’ll use a tie-tack that was still in a tie in his closet. It’s the only tie-tack I have used for the last year.
Memories. I’ve got a bucketful of them and I hope I retain each and every one of them. God gave us this incredible aspect to our memory that highlights all the good times and pushes the bad times to the recesses of our mind. What a gift!
Leebo, I know you have had the best year ever. Me too.
Loving the Journey,
Ephesians 3:17-19 And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.