Death by GPS

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This week, I couldn’t recall the name of one of the streets in town.
It was Main Street.
Thinking about it, I realized that if you were to hand me a blank map of my small city, I would only be able to insert maybe six or seven street names.  If I had to tell someone how to get to my house using only the names of streets signs, I don’t know if I could do it!
What is going on with me?  I used to be really good at street names.  It’s as if my ability to match a name and a place has just shriveled up.  What gives?
And then the three-letter answer came to me:  GPS.
Global Positioning Satellites.  Somewhere up in the atmosphere there are lots of little contraptions orbiting the planet that, through my phone or my car, can tell me with pinpoint accuracy where I am, and where I’m going.  They do all that work for me. GPS has become such a part of my life that I’ve stopped paying attention to my surroundings.  Instead, I pay heed to the slightly British-accented woman’s voice telling me to “proceed to the route”.
Is it dangerous to rely too much on a GPS?  Turns out, it can be deadly.  I found this article from the Sacramento Bee, describing numerous cases of people following a malfunctioned or misread GPS out into Death Valley.  They became lost, didn’t know where to go, and in several cases perished because of it!
What if that’s me, minus the desert?  What if I’ve come to rely on the “eye in the sky” instead of my own vision, so much that my ability to see clearly has suffered from it?
Death by GPS is a real thing.  I wonder, what about death by Faith?  Placing so much faith into someone or something that you lose yourself.  I think it is possible.  I’ve seen people turn a blind eye to their own gifts and uniqueness, throwing their own agency away to the whims of God.
But God doesn’t work that way.
Your word is a lamp for my feet,
a light on my path.  –Psalm 119:105
See?  God doesn’t carry us over the finish line.  God helps us see where to go.  I like what C.S. Lewis had to say on the subject:
“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”
― C.S. Lewis
God doesn’t require faith at the cost of agency.  Both are meant to go together.  God shines like a lamp, like a light, like the sun, and with faith’s help, we chart a course for our lives.
God illuminates our world, and nudges us to move.
Where do we go?  God may have a few ideas about that.
But it’s up to us to read the (street) signs.
Have a great week,
Mitch

Life GPS

 

 

 

Fur All The Saints

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I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason  I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. –Ephesians 1:15-16

A saint is a person who is recognized as having an exceptional degree of holiness or likeness or closeness to God.  –Wikipedia

It’s my devotion. So if I want to use All Saints Day to venerate my dearly departed doggie, I’m gonna do it.

Not that this won’t be met with some controversy, I’m sure.  The debate over whether animals have souls has gone on for centuries.  People are adamant on both sides.  Even Catholic Popes have weighed in differently down through the ages.

Most recently, in 2014, Pope Frances made the claim that animals go to heaven.  It made international press–too bad everybody was quoting somebody else by mistake.  We don’t actually know what the Pope’s thoughts on pets in the afterlife are.  I wonder if he ever had a dog?

My dog, Charlie, left this Earth yesterday, early afternoon.  My wife and I don’t have kids, so Charlie was the third member of our family.  We’ve had many tears as we’ve watched his cancer get the best of him.  Saying goodbye to someone you love is so hard.

I’ll be honest–if you were to call into question the existence of a soul in Charlie, my wife would probably beat you up.  So I don’t recommend that, at least not this week.  For us, and millions of pet owners, the answer is obvious.  The spark of creation, the capacity for love points to an unmistakable soul.  Something God-given and eternal.  Charlie has a soul.

Now, I’m gonna take it one step further.  Can a dog be a Saint?

We have several definitions of “Saint” that we use in the church.  They can differ from one denomination to the next, but here’s what we talk about in my church.  A Saint is:

  1. Someone who has impacted the lives of others in a profound and loving way.
  2. A member of the congregation, living or dead.
  3. Anyone whom we have loved and lost.

Those are pretty roomy definitions, and designed to be that way.

The Catholic Church goes further:  A saint (lower case) is anyone in heaven.  A Saint (upper case) is someone “who has been formally canonized that is, officially and authoritatively declared a saint, by the Church as holder of the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, and is therefore believed to be in Heaven by the grace of God” (Wikipedia)

I think Charlie would have to have performed a couple miracles (and be human) in order to be considered for canonization, (we’re talking Mother Theresa material), so maybe not the extra fancy description of Saint.  But, looking at #1 up there, I’m gonna say he counts in my book.

For 12 years he followed/shepherded us everywhere we went.  He cuddled, played tug, and seemed to know when we needed an extra dose of affection.  He was incredibly smart–we counted well more than a dozen words or phrases he understood completely.  He ran with Jan for years around Wyandotte County Lake, protecting her.  He traveled around the country with us.  And on the rare occasion when Jan and I would raise our voices, he would come and sit right between us.

I could go on, and probably never convince some that Charlie is being deserving of Sainthood.  That’s okay.  I suppose you’ll have to take my word for it —  That dog taught me more about love, service and commitment then most humans ever will.

So, if you’re not a pet owner, consider becoming one!

And if you are a pet owner — I give you permission (which you don’t need) to call your special pets Saints, too.   I figure, if the paw fits, wear it.

I believe we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, and not all of them walk on two legs.

But hey, when you turn your eyes to God, you can go ahead and discern that for yourself.

After all…

It’s your devotion.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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Certain Death

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 “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. –Luke 21:25-26

Stanislov Petrov.  Does that name ring a bell? He was a good, good man.

We found out this week that he had passed away back in May, in a little town near Moscow.  By accounts he was a mild-mannered man, who lived a quiet life.

Oh, and he saved the world.

In 1983, according to rt.com, he was working in Russia at an early warning bunker, when the long range radar reported several missiles coming from the U.S.  The protocol would have been to announce an impending attack, leading to a nuclear response from the U.S.S.R.

Something didn’t feel right to Petrov.  He’d been trained that if the U.S. were to attack, it would have been a bombardment of missiles, not just a handful.  So he waited.

The missiles turned out to be the sun’s reflection on some clouds.  Stanislov Petrov’s clear headedness averted global nuclear war.

I don’t know how to feel about this true story.  Should I be glad there are intelligent people like Petrov in the world, or should I be terrified to think that just one person stood between a cold war and certain death?

Back in the 80’s I was terrified of nuclear annihilation. The fear has faded over time, but I don’t know why.  We’ve still got enough missiles pointed at each other to destroy the planet many times over.  Though we don’t like to think about it, the end of the world is only a few desperate choices away.

There are actually some folks who seem preoccupied by thinking about the end of the world.  A guy named David Meade, who studies numerology, predicts that the scripture above predicts the ending of the world, on Saturday, September 23rd.  He thinks some rogue planet is going to crash into the Earth.

Not even Stanislov Petrov would be able to put a stop to that.

To Meade, I say: Hogwash.  This is yet another poorly constructed prediction about the end of the world. But it does make me think. In many ways, like Petrov, we do have some say when it comes to “the end”.   We have it within our grasp to avoid certain death by caring for our environment, ending world hunger, fighting disease, and even blowing up an occasional asteroid, if you’re a fan of the movie Armageddon.

And as long as we have men and women with integrity and common sense, we may even be able to keep our fingers off the button.

But even as comforting as that notion is, the truth is that some day we’ll all die, and there’s nothing we can do about it.  Maybe all at once, I suppose, but more likely one at a time.  Remember, 120 years from now, none of us will be here.

How’s that for certain death?  Yikes.

Ready for some Good News?  Whenever it is we come to that moment between life and death, there will be a good man waiting there for us.  Better, even, than Stanislov Petrov.  This man will do even more for us than averting certain death.

He will take us by the hand,

and lead us into Certain Life.

Have a great week,
(especially Saturday)

Mitch

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What Dreams May Come

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Today, a devotion about my least favorite Robin Williams movie.

In the mid-90’s, some kids from my youth group got together and watched a movie called “What Dreams May Come”.

Do you remember it?

Most of it takes place in the afterlife.  Robin Williams plays a man who has died, and when his soul mate takes her own life, he goes to rescue her from hell.

Visually, the movie was astounding.  I think it won an Oscar for visual effects that year.

But one of the boys from youth group had a tough question for me that next week:

“Is my mom in hell?”

* * *

Gulp.

As beautiful as the movie was visually, it contained a notion I always considered to be quite ugly:

In the movie, if you killed yourself, you were going to hell.

Granted, this was a hell of one’s own making, but there was no escape for someone who had taken their own lives.

This poor boy had lost someone he loved to suicide, and now this movie had scared him badly.

Here’s what I told him:

“No.  The movie got it wrong.  I’m certain of it.  See, the whole notion is just bad logic.  Wouldn’t you think that a person who dies from cancer no longer has cancer?  Wouldn’t you think that a person who is alcoholic is no longer alcoholic?  Someone who dies by suicide is not doomed to suffer an eternity of depression, confusion, and alienation. They are free from it.”

* * *

Pretty good response, I think.

I also like the way Paul says it in 1 Corinthians 15:

Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.  For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.  When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

 “Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?”

That is an amazing statement of faith in God’s eternal Love.  It seems to say that God’s love changes us in death.

I’m sure it does.  I’m sure Robin Williams is at peace now.

But everything I’ve ever read or experienced about Jesus Christ assures me that God’s love can change us right here and now, too.  While we’re alive.

Those suffering from depression are blessed with doctors, therapists, pastors, friends,  family and partners.

There’s medication and there’s meditation.

There’s music, art, and funny movies (starring Robin Williams.)

Yes, we’ll be changed when we die…

but we don’t have to die to change.

* * *

I sat in my backyard last night, and I cried for Robin Williams.

His pain must have been great.

And yet I still believe God’s Love holds great promise for his soul, and for yours, and mine.

A promise not of nightmares…

but of what dreams may come.

rip Robin,

Mitch

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What DON’T You Want On Your Tombstone?

Someday it’s gonna happen.

You’re gonna die!

Now don’t panic, you’ve got plenty of time ahead of you. Still…

As uncomfortable as most of us are talking about our own mortality, mightn’t it be a good idea to reflect on how you want to be remembered when that day comes?

That’s a toughie. Maybe the better question to ponder is how you don’t want to be remembered. What is there about you that you don’t necessarily want to be remembered for?

In other words: What don’t you want on your tombstone?

I’ve given this quite a bit of thought for myself. Here’s what I don’t want mine to say

“Here lies Mitch. He was clever.”

Clever! It sounds like a compliment at first, but at second thought, what kind of life would that describe? Jokes and guffaws signifying nothing? If all I ever amounted to was clever, would that mean I never had something of substance to say? Would that mean I never really did something with my life?

You get the idea. Clever, for me, could point to a life without the depth of faith that I aspire to. That might be one way to describe me, but I wouldn’t want that to define me.

What about you? What don’t you want on your tombstone? Can you think of an aspect of your life that some might think is a defining characteristic, but only scratches the surface of who you are?

Maybe you’re quick to act but want to be remembered for your thoughtfulness. Maybe you’re a trend setter but you’d like to be remembered for being a strong role model. Maybe you’re a great cook, but you want your legacy to be your advocacy with children.

I don’t know the ways people maybe aren’t seeing you the way you want to be seen. And frankly, we don’t always get to choose other people’s perceptions of ourselves.

But if we’re clear about what we don’t want to have seen as our leading edge, we might find some motivation to chisel out the life we want to be living.

Well the bad news is, you really are gonna die some day. That’s how life works.

But the good news (aside from the whole Heaven thing) is that between now and then you have the opportunity to shape your life into something more lasting than any tombstone.

Perhaps you needn’t worry so much about your epitaph. After all, a few words could never sum up your life.

So, how about pondering a question that really matters, like…

Who’s gonna play you in the movie?
Have a great week,
Mitch