Wildfires

Our family had a great time reconnecting with our parents, siblings, nephews, nieces, and friends in British Columbia this past month. And, as always, I enjoyed being back in the mountains and made the most of opportunities to hike some trails, including the Abby Grind and the Othello Tunnels / Hope-Nicola Valley Trail.

For the last week or so of our vacation, however, the mountains were obscured by smoke of the wildfires still burning in BC. Instead of clear mountain vistas, we often awoke to hazy skies. The wildfires also closed several highways between Prince George and Abbotsford, forcing us to detour over the Yellowhead Highway from Prince George east to Tête Jaune Cache and then south to Kamloops, Hope, Cache Creek wildfire photo from CBCand Abbotsford. We drove past barricaded highways and towns on evacuation alert.

Ashcroft First Nation fire damage photo from CBC

 

 

 

 

 

 

As it so happened, Michael W. Smith’s CD Sovereign provided the soundtrack for part of the drive. As we were driving through Little Fort, a town where the residents had returned following an evacuation but remained on high alert, the song “Sovereign Over Us” started playing with its reminders of God’s strength in our sorrows. These lines were especially appropriate:

You’ve not forgotten us;
You’re with us through the fire and the flood.

The bridge helps us confess:

Even in the valley You are faithful,
You’re working for our good,
You’re working for our good and for Your glory.

Literally and figuratively, God is present with His people in hazy valleys and fiery circumstances. That doesn’t necessarily make traveling through those valleys or enduring the flames easy. But it does assure me that I’m not traveling through them alone.

Lessons in hospitality

Graphic and quote found via Google

I once heard a story about a young college student named Bill. Bill had wild hair, spiked with vivid colors, and wore a nose ring. Bill regularly wore t-shirts with holes in them, blue jeans, and no shoes. Bill, a brilliant young man, became a Christian while attending college. He attended a Christian organization on campus, but he also wanted to find a church.

Across the street from Bill’s college was a conservative, very traditional church filled with well-dressed people. One Sunday Bill decided to visit that church. He walked into the sanctuary with his nose ring, no shoes, jeans and a t-shirt, and wild hair. The service had already started, so Bill walked down the aisle looking for a seat. But the church was packed and he could not find a seat anywhere.

In an uncomfortable silence, people watched Bill make his way to the front of the church. When he realized there were no seats left, he squatted down and simply sat in the aisle next to the first pew.

Although this was perfectly acceptable behavior at his college fellowship group, this had never happened before in this church! The tension in the congregation was palpable. The preacher didn’t know what to do so he stood there in silence.

As Bill was settling down in the aisle, an elderly man, one of the old patriarchs of that church, slowly made his way toward Bill. The man was in his eighties, had silver-gray hair, and always wore a three-piece suit. He was a godly man, very elegant, dignified, traditional, and conservative. As he started walking toward the boy, people wondered what he was going to do. After all, how can you expect a man of his age and of his background to understand some college kid with a nose ring, wild hair, t-shirt and jeans and no shoes, sitting on the church floor? Was he going to whisper in Bill’s ear and ask him to leave? Was he going to squeeze Bill’s shoulder and point him to the door? Was he going to pull Bill out of the church by his nose ring??

Because the old man walked with a cane, it took a long time for him to reach the boy. The church was utterly silent except for the clicking of the old man’s cane. All eyes were focused on him.

Finally, the old man reached the boy. He paused a moment, then dropped his cane on the floor. With great difficulty, the old man lowered himself and sat down next to the boy. He shook the boy’s hand and welcomed him to the church.

::   ::   ::

I’ve read before that the Bible is the story of God’s relentless hospitality towards His creation. My kind hospitality towards others simply reflects the hospitality first extended to me by God Himself. Even if it feels like a world of differences separates me from the other person – whether it’s gender, nationality, skin color, language, or cultural differences – it’s not even close to the huge difference that separated a holy God from sinful humanity. That means the uncomfortable space I perceive between myself and someone different than me is nothing compared to the chasm God bridged in Christ to reach me. To put it a bit differently: I am probably more similar than I realize to the person to whom God is asking me to extend kindness.

The story about Bill and the elderly church member is one of
a couple stories about hospitality from
GettingReadyForSunday.com.
I read the other story a couple weeks ago at Trinity CRC
when I spoke
on 1 Peter 4:7-11 and hospitality.

Order or disorder

Anyone’s who’s been around me for more than 5 minutes knows I’m a very organized person. A couple years ago I posted a devotional written by retired CRC pastor Dale Vander Veen about the virtue and occasional vice of being organized. He accurately expressed how I feel in that piece and has now done so again in a recent devotional titled “Order or Disorder.” I reprint it here with Dale’s kind permission.

::– –::– –::

Two verses in the same chapter speak of order: “God is not a God of disorder, but of order… Everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.” I love order – in my flowerbeds, in my study, in my car, in my finances, in my sock drawer, in my closet, on my bookshelves, in my planning for the future.

Recently our son’s family was at our home and I wanted to check on someone from a church we served some years ago. I left the room and returned fifteen seconds later with that church’s pictorial directory. My daughter-in-law exclaimed, “Who but Dad would know that he had that directory – and exactly where it was?” Why wouldn’t I know? What are filing cabinets and folders for anyway?

Graphic found via Google

I think deep down inside that I’m not searching for order as much as for peace. Some people find that too much order robs them of peace, confining them in the anxiety of organization. And I must apologize to those upon whom I have foisted order beyond what they could bear. To such dear friends and family members I say, “Let there be disorder in your life if that brings you peace.” For myself I say, “Let there be order in my life so I may have peace.”

Peace is of greater value than order. I must admit I changed the last word of 1 Corinthians 14:33 above from peace to order. Paul actually wrote, “God is not a God of disorder, but of peace.” God’s ultimate desire for us is not order, but peace. How much better to do what God wants me to do, and let him bring order as he sees best. Even suffering (a disordering experience for most) advances God’s sense of order and peace, for suffering brings perseverance which brings character which brings hope. And it is the God of hope who fills us with all joy and peace.

Let there be order, but above all, let there be peace – the peace of God!

God wins

We are currently working through Revelation in our evening services at Trinity CRC. Revelation is the last book of the Bible, penned by the apostle John as he received a remarkable vision from Jesus himself. For many people it is a “closed” book, very difficult to read and understand. That’s both sad and ironic, considering how the word revelation itself comes from the word revealGraphic found at crosswalk.comand God very much wants to reveal things to us as we read Revelation!

I admit that Revelation is not always the easiest part of the Bible to read. But it’s not as terribly complicated as you might think. The message of Revelation can be summarized in two hope-filled words: “God wins!” Knowing that God currently reigns and will reign forever, his people confidently follow him and serve others. Granted, this is not easy, and Revelation acknowledges that in its vivid descriptions of the forces that distract us from purposeful living grounded in Christ and guided by the Bible. Thankfully, Revelation also shows how God is stronger than all those bad influences combined. What’s more, he is always present with his people, even in the toughest times.

One author who’s helped me understand Revelation a bit better is theologian and preacher Fleming Rutledge. I love this part from her book The Bible and The New York Times:

The book of Revelation has taken a bad rap. Once you get the hang of it, it really isn’t all that difficult. It shouldn’t be left to the David Koresh’s of the world. Almost all reputable interpreters today recognize that Revelation is poetry and liturgy. It is not a Rand McNally map of heaven. It is not a timetable for the end of the world. It is not a “Bible Code.” It is by no means as weird as we have been led to believe. It is full of encouragement, hope, and comfort, especially for oppressed people. When Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa was fighting the good fight against apartheid all those decades, he used to say, “Don’t give up! Don’t get discouraged! I’ve read the end of the book! We win!” The celestial vision arises out of the Revelation of Jesus Christ himself, the Son of God who reigns in heaven and who has drawn back the curtain just for a moment to allow us a glimpse of God’s future. (page 17)

In Christ, we win in the end, no matter how bleak things might sometimes look. My mistakes, brokenness, and sin – even my death – will not have the last word. God will. Personally, that fills me with a lot of hope and gives me purpose today. The next time you have an open Bible in front of you, find some of that hope and purpose for yourself in Revelation.

I wrote this column for this week’s Rock Valley Bee.
I’ve shared the quote from Fleming Rutledge
before.

Solvent

As an English major, I love seeing words come alive in a new light, especially when it’s in the light of faith. Dale Vander Veen is a retired pastor who emails daily devotions and he graciously welcomed me to share his theological discoveries in the word solvent

I love to find ways to open the gospel in one word. And when that one word has more than one meaning, all the better.

Solvent: able to pay all legal debts (as defined by Merriam-Webster). Solvent definition from GoogleThe opposite of solvent is bankrupt: reduced to a state of financial ruin; utter impoverishment. Maybe you know where I’m going with this one. I am spiritually bankrupt. I am unable to pay my debts to God; I am ruined, utterly impoverished. My dictionary goes further in defining bankrupt: exhausted of valuable qualities.

God says, “Dale, your dictionary goes too far. You may feel that you are ‘exhausted of valuable qualities.’ I disagree. You are of great worth to me. I have claimed you as my own, redeemed you, given you a new start. I have solved your insolvency once and for all.” Wow! Paul puts it this way: “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” Wow again!!

Solvent: a liquid substance capable of dissolving or dispersing one or more other unwanted substances (as also defined by Merriam-Webster). My sin is an “unwanted substance.” It is a deep stain, a seemingly irremovable stain. Only one liquid substance can make me better than OxiClean. “In [Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us.” “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” One more Wow!!!

::– –::– –::

For nothing good have I whereby thy grace to claim;
I’ll wash my garments white in the blood of Calvary’s Lamb.
Jesus paid it all; all to him I owe.
Sin had left a crimson stain; he washed it white as snow.
————————— – Elvina M. Hall, “Jesus Paid It All”


…Contact Dale directly if you’d like to receive his e-devotions, too:
dalevanderveen@sbcglobal.net
 

My neighbor, the refugee

by Fred Wilgenburg
Director & Pastor,
New Roots Ministry

“In late November of 1847, the steamship Phoenix went down into the icy waters of Lake Michigan, just off the shore from Sheboygan, Wisconsin. A host of passengers died – probably over 200. No one knows for sure because ship owners didn’t care – after all, they were just immigrants, nothing more.
Just a bunch of Dutch immigrants.”

…As recorded by James Schaap,
author and emeritus professor of English
at Dordt College, in a Facebook post.

I opened with the previous paragraph because many of you readers
are of Dutch heritage, as I am. As well, our world presently has a refugee crisis, and our country – the United States – has often been a new home to immigrants, including refugees, though right now the Executive branch of the government is seeking to pause and to “get a better grip” on who is coming in. In response to these attempts within our increasingly polarized country, some are pleased and would probably also encourage moving up in the schedule of executive decisions, the building of a wall between the U.S. and Mexico. Others are strongly opposed, citing Jesus’ words in Matthew 25 to clothe the needy, to feed the hungry, and to welcome the stranger.

Leviticus 19:33‐34 is also cited: “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native‐born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.”

Could the case be made that many of us are like the foreigners in that passage? Personally, I am not far from it. My parents immigrated to the U.S. from The Netherlands, a country that was struggling after World War II. They were not classified as refugees fleeing from a tyrannical dictator or from religious persecution, but if they had to stay in The Netherlands much longer, their lives would have been worse off.

As a believer in God, if I would have lived during the time referred to in the Leviticus passage, I would have been that “foreigner in Egypt.” Further, for me personally, I am a foreigner who has been received into the family of God – God is holy and I am not holy on my own; still, He forgives me of my sins and receives me into His family. My colleague, Rich Merkouris, recently tweeted these words: “As Christians, we can disagree on how to care for refugees. We cannot disagree that we must care for the refugees.” He’s right. Leviticus 19 states, “Do not mistreat them… [they] must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself… I am the Lord your God.”

Refugee graphic found via Google

As I and others of New Roots Ministry often work with immigrants, including refugees – through workplace chaplaincy, encouraging and equipping pastors of immigrant congregations, special seminars which we co‐lead with immigrants, hanging out with refugees, and co‐leading ministries together – I have learned that they are easy to love. In most cases, they have a strong work ethic, they want the best for their families, they have life‐experiences and cultures which they are willing to share with me and which enrich me, and they have a sense of compassion for others throughout the world. By “treating [them] as [our] native born, and lov[ing] them as [ourselves],” as God commands, our lives are enhanced; we are blessed.


We regularly hear from the New Roots Ministry in Sioux Falls when Classis Iakota meets. After I read Fred’s reflections in the latest New Roots newsletter, I asked him for and he graciously gave me permission to post it here. In a few days I’ll add some of my thoughts on the subject, too.