Prodigal Father, Prodigal Son

Gone.  Not gone, like John Coltrane, or a cool breeze, but gone.  When I was a kid, that was my Dad – gone.  He was an adventurer, an entrepreneur.  He was also driven by circumstances beyond his control that frustrated him, ticked him off and often overwhelmed him.  So he dealt with it by going. He was always going somewhere – out, away, gone.

When I was just four years old, we moved from Oregon to Alaska.  My Dad had a chromium mine with some friends from the states.  He put my Mom and two brothers and me in an apartment in Anchorage and spent most of his time out at the mine, digging chromium to make bumpers for cars.  I remember the ice and the snow, and walking to the first grade in “packs” of kids, so the wild dogs that roamed the edges of town wouldn’t catch us and eat us.  When my Mom had my little sister, she started to show the first signs of MS, so he sent us back to Walla Walla, my Mom’s home town, to live with my Grandfather.  And that was my life from then on.  A letter, a phone call, and always wondering when my Dad would come home.

We moved to a house on Boyer street and then to a house on Francis street, and from time to time Dad would come home, but he never really lived in those places.  When I was ten, he bought a foreclosure up on Whitman street for $7,000 and moved us in.  It was a fixer-upper, but he never really fixed it up.  I remember him getting a load of siding from a job he sold to a big development.  When he put the siding on he was about 40 squares short, so the back side of the house stayed unfinished for the next ten years.  And that was our life – unfinished, 40 squares short, gone…

When I was twelve, he left for good, well at least it seemed like that. Mom was very sick and he couldn’t make enough to support us all so he went looking for the pot of gold.  Interestingly enough, he found it, but not before I was gone… gone from home, gone to San Francisco, gone into the “Sixties”, gone…

After I left home, my Dad began to make enough money to finally take care of my Mom.  He moved her to California, and when his company moved to Seattle, he bought her a house up there.  For the last years of her life, he was not gone.  He was there for her, and I admired him for that.

We never talked much.  Oh we got together, and told stories, and laughed – Dad was a people person and fun to be with – but we never had “those” talks.  You know, the kind of talks that help a son get on the right track: how to balance a checkbook, how to have real relationships, how to prepare for your life’s work, the kind of talks that end with, “I love you, son, and I want the best for your life.”  So I was flying on instruments for most of my life.  Until I met Jesus Christ.

One of the most meaningful talks I ever had with my Dad was about my new-found “religion.”  He didn’t exactly understand it, but he could see that something had changed in my life.  I wasn’t wandering any more, I wasn’t a “loser” as he put it, but I was going for the gold, and he told me he was proud of me.  That and the two times he told me he loved me were real highlights in my relationship with my Dad.

So we went along like that for many years.  After my mom died, he met a great lady from the Philippines and married her.  She was so good for him and through her he learned many things: patience, kindness, communication, real love I think.  But he and I were still in that “gone” place.  Since I couldn’t find a way to tell him how I felt, that I was concerned for his eternity, I started sending him books:  Chuck Colson, Lee Strobel, Tim LaHaye, everything I could to show him the reality of Jesus Christ, and the love of the Father in heaven.  When I wrote my first book, I sent him a copy. Later, when I talked to him on the phone, he said, “That’s a good book.” That meant a lot.

Last Saturday, July 17th, my Dad died.  He was 89 and worn out.  My sister was taking care of him and let me know that he was going, so I got on a plane and went to Seattle.  I missed him by an hour.  But he knew I was coming.  My brother told me that when Dad heard I was on my way, he was able to let go, because he knew that there was nothing between us any more that would keep me away.  All the books that I had sent were there, he had read every one of them.  And before I  left home, I had asked my sister to ask him three things:  did he believe that Jesus was the Son of God; did he believe that Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead; and did he believe that if he asked Jesus to forgive his sins, that Jesus would forgive him.  My sister said that he answered “Yes,” to all three questions, and that he was ready to go.

So now he’s gone again, not like Coltrane or a cool breeze, but gone home.  Home to be with his Father, the prodigal coming back down the long road.  And even as I struggle to find ways to grieve, I have peace.  This prodigal son will see his prodigal father again, when we are both home and the real story of our relationship can begin.

And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.  Luke 15:20

Fallow Ground

Judy and I have worked in our garden a lot this spring, bringing in compost, roto-tillinng, getting the seedlings started, getting the watering system up and running – it’s a lot of work to get ready.  Last year we had one crane melon plant that produced three delicious, sweet melons.  So I decided this year to expand and put in a whole melon patch.  That meant I had to tear down the fence around part of my garden and add a new ten-foot by twenty-foot area.  The place I chose has been a pasture for years.  I use it mostly to let my sheep graze, an unused area full of tall grass and weeds that I occasionally mow down so the sheep will eat.

In order to prepare the ground, I had to weed-eat 200 square feet of tall grass down to the roots, and then get out the roto-tiller and turn it over.  This was real work, as my aching legs and back can attest.  After I tilled it once, I raked out all the leaves, and clumps of grass roots that had been torn loose and turned over.  As I uncovered the plot, I realized that it was dark, rich, fertile soil, perfect for my melons and whatever else I wanted to plant there.  There it was, a goldmine of nutrients that had been just sitting for eleven years!

As I worked the soil, I began to think about the condition of my own “garden”, and then I heard that still, small voice speaking to my spirit.  “Is there any area in your life that has lain dormant?  Let me break up the fallow ground of your heart, so that you might bear fruit, thirty, sixty, one hundred fold.”

Do you have areas that need plowing up so they can be made available to the planting of the Holy Spirit? I sure do.

Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap in mercy; break up your fallow ground: for it is time to seek the LORD, till he come and rain righteousness upon you.    Hosea 10:12

180 Degree Thinking

In the old days, men proved their manhood by killing other men.. it was as simple as that.  I live, you die; I win, you lose.  Things haven’t changed much in the last six thousand years.  Men still strive to win and the way we win is to make sure that others lose.  Today we don’t necessarily win with swords and spears, although we still kill each other.  No, mostly we kill each other with words and actions.  The Jewish scholars say that to commit murder is really to murder someone’s character.  I win, you lose; I live, you die.

Jesus had an interesting approach to this inherent condition in mankind.  He said “If you want to be my follower, die to yourself, take up your cross, and follow me.” It’s what I call 180 degree thinking.  Jesus knew that the way we lived was absolutely self-centered.  I am going to be the wealthiest, I am going to be the most popular, I am going to get that better job no matter who I have to step on to get there.  I win, you lose; I live, you die.

But Jesus said to us, “No.  If you really want to experience what it means to be human, I ask you to die so someone else can live.  And if you don’t understand how that works, I’ll go first.”

Then He took up His cross and died in my place, and your place, so that we could live.  Most people will never understand the concept, but I guarantee you, it works.

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?    Jeremiah 17:9

But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  Romans 5:8

Speaking of Sheep…

Is there anything more wonderful than watching kids grow, being there when they succeed, or fail, or just want to share an accomplishment?  This little lamb is my granddaughter, Rebecca, after her dance recital.  She played one of the little sheep in The Nutcracker – she was the one who gets to whack the wolf on the nose.

Don’t we want to make sure that our kids and grandkids always get to whack their wolves on the nose? How many prayers and tears and supplications are sent heavenward on their behalf?  We send them out into the world and yet we want to protect them from it.  We do everything we can to teach them about the dangers and pitfalls, and still they stick their fingers in the fan. We want to keep them safe and secure and help them to grow up and live a “normal” life, and yet we don’t understand what a “normal” life really is, do we?

Our Heavenly Father knows what a normal life is, and He understands that it is not the life to which we so desperately cling, fighting tooth and nail to have everything we want, being dragged kicking and screaming into old age and ultimately death.  Our God knows that this is the Shadowlands, and that the real life, the real story of humanity will begin, when He has wiped away every tear, burned up this old heaven and this old earth, and established a dwelling place for us where sin, death, and the grave will not be found.

He is so determined to see that we are able to share that life with Him that He sent a Lamb, His only Son, to hang upon a tree, and become a curse for all of us, that we might escape the curse of living for self, and enter a realm where all glory and honor is given to Him, and in return He will share all the wonder, and knowledge, and wisdom that He is, with us, His precious lambs.

The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.   John 1:29

Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not.   I John 3:1

No wonder He calls us Sheep…

My wife, Judy, and I raise sheep on our small ranchette in Northern California.  We give them shots, we shear them, we clean up their feet when they get foot rot, clip their hooves, clean their boils and abscesses… it’s never-ending.   If I haven’t fed them by 6am they stand at the back fence and bellow until I come out.  When the ewes lamb, we have to put them in the barn with the baby for three days so they will bond.  We have to give them a bucket of molasses water to help them get their strength back.  We have to check that the mama has enough milk and if they don’t we have to bottle feed the lamb for a month.  We do all these things for their good, and still they fight us every step of the way.  When I give them their shots, I have to “cast them down” which means that I wrestle them down on their back with their feet up in the air.  When they are in that position, they are completely helpless.

Bet you didn’t know that when you read “Why art thou cast down, O my soul” in Psalm 42:5.  You see, it’s no mystery why God calls us “The sheep of His hand.”  Everything God does for us, He does for our absolute good, and yet most of the time we fight Him every step of the way.  That’s why sometimes He must apply “the rod and the staff,” or even “cast us down” by adverse circumstances, so that we are absolutely helpless.  It is then that the Holy Spirit inspires us to cry “Abba, Father, help us.”  It is then that we come back into the relationship that God desires – one of complete dependence on Him.  You know, we really should listen to Him.  After all, He made the universe. He’s at least a genius…

O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord our God, our Maker.  For he is our God and we are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand.  Today, if you hear His voice, harden not your heart…      Psalm 95:6-8

A Light Ahead…

If all winter days
and all memories of winter days
could be shaped into one day of your life…

would the sun be shining on frozen glass
and go slipping away on heels of leather
down, down to the schoolyard gate…

or would the crunch of your boots make the only sound
on a dark evening
muffled by falling snow
(can anyone remember the quiet of such a night?)

The road winds away through the powdered elm trees
branches lifted like lonely arms…

and then a glow in a window ahead
to light your way
home…

In Him was life and the life was the light of men
The light shined in the darkness
and the darkness comprehended it not.. John 1:5-6

A Place Called Home…

Wallowa Lake, in the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, is my favorite place on earth.  Head up from LaGrande, Oregon through Elgin, Enterprise, over the Minam Grade, down the Wallowa River canyon, and suddenly you drive out into the most incredible valley, with green fields, flowing streams, and snow-capped mountains rising straight up all around you. It’s called the Switzerland of America, but it beats Switzerland all hollow.  Wallowa Lake is set like a jewel, right at the head of the valley. I spent much of my childhood roaming the mountains around the lake, trout fishing, hiking, camping…  I have always dreamed of living there.

But what I have learned after many years in this world, is that even the most beautiful place on earth pales in comparison to the glory that awaits us when we come into our inheritance in Christ, and are seated in Him, in heavenly places, ruling and reigning over the new heavens and the new earth.

We are so focused on the earth, and our life here, that we forget that this creation is corrupted – forever spoiled and useless to God, because of the rebellion of a proud creature named Lucifer.  One day, our God, who is a God of love, but also a God of righteousness who must judge sin, will complete His judgment of this corrupted sphere and it will melt in fervent heat, to be replaced by a garden of unbearable beauty.

If the places I love on this earth are beautiful beyond description, then it is impossible for me to comprehend the wonder of His coming new creation… and how big the trout will be…

For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now, and not only they but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body…   Romans 8:22-23