Monday, March 9, 2015

The Return of Jesus--A Fairy Tale?

13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 

15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 

17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words. (1 Thess 4.13-18)


Do you ever read a passage such as this one and find yourself asking, “Is this really real??” Imagine all of a sudden when I am driving to the grocery store, the skies open and there is a loud trumpet call and the powerful voice of an angel… 

Forget the milk and bread!! Don’t run off the road, but then if you do, you know everything is still going to be okay. Jesus has returned.

And he is bringing with him “all those who have fallen asleep in him”: my mom and dad (Edith and Taylor), my friend Brad Bynum, my friend Andrea Browning who died 27 years ago today, and hundreds of friends who have died from cancer or heart attacks or car well as some precious children who left us in an "untimely" way to go on to be with Jesus. 

All this can seem like a sci fi movie…special effects abounding and plentiful. Being “caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” No ride in Disney World can even begin to compare.

Living in the age of reason and science and skepticism and realism, we can lose sight of this incredible promise from the Bible.

If we really do believe that after the death of “his saints” there will be a resurrection, a new heaven, and a new earth, wouldn’t we be extremely motivated not only to live our lives for Jesus but to encourage others to do so also?

When disciples of Jesus die, we do grieve, but we don’t grieve as those with no hope…we grieve while holding on to the sure promise of resurrection, renewal, reunion.

Though all this is no fairy tale, those of us who are His followers will live happily ever after and after and after…

Friday, February 20, 2015

Visualization Gone Wrong

Some people use visualization techniques to help them relax and not be anxious.

(Peaceful, new-age music is playing in the background): “Picture yourself standing in a field of vibrant green grass. In your mind’s eye, look up at the blue sky and billowy white clouds. Now cast your eyes below at the shimmering lake of water, mirroring the sky. Hear the burbles and gurgles of the nearby brook, etc.”
I have found this type of visualization to be helpful, but sometimes it doesn’t work so well for me. I can experience a visualization gone wrong, very wrong. It can happen something like this:

“Imagine yourself on a yellow rubber raft in the ocean. Feel the undulating motion as the waves lap at the sides of the raft…” 

Good so far, but then I start thinking, I am out in the open ocean being lulled into a state of torpor and unawareness of my surroundings. What if I mindlessly float out too far and no one knows where I am? Will a helicopter notice me dotting yellowy upon the limitless sea?

Okay, in my mind I will rope off an area that keeps me safely close to shore. Back to my visualization:

“Now…imagine yourself on a yellow rubber raft on the edges of the ocean…bobbing safely up and down, up and down, up and down…”

Wait a minute, now I am assured that I will not be carried out to sea, but what about sharks? They could swim under my rope, get me in their sights, and munch my toes off. What can I do to safeguard myself so I can truly relax? I know. I will put up a filtering fence that goes from three feet above the surface all the way down to the ocean floor.

Done! Now finally I can relax, float my anxieties away, bob blissfully.

But what is this I hear?... “Mommy, look at that swimming pool over in the ocean there. See, where that lady on the yellow raft is. Can we swim there too?’”

They coming running—all seven of them—invading my placidity, my place, my privacy.

“Sorry, lady, I didn’t mean to splash you in the face.” “Uh oh! Sorry I kicked you, lady. It was an accident.” Then they play volley beach ball, using me for the net.

I slither off the raft, pack up my anxieties and swim slowly toward the shore. Maybe next time I will go to the mountains.


I am thankful that Paul tells us not to “be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present [our] requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard [our] hearts and [our] minds in Christ Jesus.”

When my attempts at peaceful visualizations go wrong, I am glad to know that my Father is the God of peace. Through his Spirit living within me, he can quiet my fears and calm my anxieties—with or without background music.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Divine Disposition: The Widow of Nain

Many of my friends and I are hurting today over several difficult losses we are experiencing. I pray that this chapter from Jesus with the People, written by my sister, Emily Presley Bringardner, will be an encouragement as we remind ourselves of our Lord's incredible compassion.

When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.” Luke 7:13 

I imagine the funeral procession as they approach the city gate to bury the dead man. In that coffin are the dashed hopes of a mother.
We don’t know how long it had been since she walked this same route to bury her husband. We do know she was a widow, and this was her only son; a mother who had lost her husband now had lost her son. All the “what ifs” or “might have beens” were now in vain, for he was gone.
A mother was alone and crying.

I heard that same crying the night my brother died. It was a Friday night after a high school football game. I remember getting the phone call that there had been a car accident. I was sipping hot chocolate and talking with my mom when we both heard my Dad ask someone on the phone, “Both occupants of the Volkswagen?” Dad hung up the phone and very quietly said, “Ron and Elaine are dead.”
And then I heard my mother cry.
And I couldn’t say, “Don’t cry.” I remember holding her tightly and quoting every Bible verse I could remember. My heart ached for her, and I longed for her to have no reason to cry, but I knew she had reason…and I had no power to remove the reason.
I was fifteen and had been to many funerals before. But this one was different. This was my brother—the one who gave me twelve valentines when I wasn’t yet in school and didn’t get valentines from classmates like my older sister did. The one who used to tell me I was special. The one who’d given me his guitar and taught me to enjoy music and theater. And most of all, the prize of my mother’s heart¾her firstborn. The one she was both Mom and Dad to during the World War II years. The one she struggled with and prayed for during his difficult teen years. Then, there he was--a senior in college, newly married and so full of life and promise. His life had ended, and the promises could not be kept.
This funeral procession was different because I was personally involved. I was vulnerable, but not by choice.

The Choice of Love

Here is where I stand in awe of Jesus. He chose to be vulnerable to everyone’s pain. His heart ached for a woman whom he had never met. It was a simultaneous thing for him, “when he saw...his heart went out to her” with no reserve. By nature, Jesus was involved, compelled. He saw a woman he had never seen before, and immediately he felt her pain. And he did not just go about his own business.

 I am reminded of the contrasting view of W. H. Auden, the poet:
            About suffering they were never wrong, the Old Masters; How well they understood it’s human disposition:        How it takes place while someone else is eating, or opening a window, or just walking dully along.

Yes, this describes the “human disposition.” One suffers while another does a mundane task, unaware of the suffering of the other. I am so thankful for the contrast of the “Divine disposition.” 

I treasure the comfort of knowing that Jesus cared when my mother cried and that Jesus is never oblivious to my pain. 

While he felt the joy of someone else’s baby’s birth, at the same exact time, he felt my pain of miscarrying our first baby at four months. 

While he felt the happiness of someone else’s wedding vow, at the same moment he felt my sadness as I held my mother’s hand in the intensive care unit of the hospital and promised with my sister to “take care of Dad.” 

While Jesus’ heart rejoiced at someone’s engagement celebration, his heart went out to my family as we made my father’s funeral arrangements. Realizing this gives me a glimpse into the unfathomable depth of the heart of Jesus. This is God’s omnipresence. Jesus’ compassion knows no bounds; he has an unlimited capacity for caring, as Paul describes in Ephesians 3:19: “how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.”            

Jesus did what only he could do to ease her pain. He said, “Don’t cry.” What precious words to hear from the very lips of Jesus! How she must have let those words echo in her mind until her dying day, and how she must have recounted them over and over to her son when she got him back. 

She got him back! Amazing! A gift from the very heart of God. He did not just tell her “Don’t cry.” By his action, he gave her a reason to rejoice, just as he would one day give his own mother--and all of us--a reason to rejoice through his own death and resurrection.

There was no burial outside the city gates in Nain that day—only a Mother rejoicing in hope.


            The heart of Jesus is touched as he sees and feels our pain. Just as this woman felt the love and hope brought to her life that day, so can we. Though Jesus will not always remove the source of our pain, he will always support us and love us as we go through it. And he will remind us of the home he has prepared for us where there will be no death, no tears and no pain.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Straw to Gold

Do you remember the Brothers Grimm fairy tale about the miller’s daughter who was commanded by the king to spin straw into gold?

It occurs to me that life often gives us straw in the form of financial problems, health challenges, relationship difficulties, or life-jarring grief. A person of faith says, “This is happening to me, so I need to make something out of it that will encourage other people. I need to spin the straw into gold. I can’t let it be wasted.”

What about you? Has some straw been delivered to your life? Some straw you didn’t order? You checked the address to make sure it was correct. Yep, it was. Must be your straw. What will you do with it? Brood, complain, whine, blame, despair, stew? Or will you spin some gold?

Tom and I both deal with health challenges—definitely a bale that we didn’t order. We want to spin this straw into gold, but we are learning that we can’t do it by ourselves. In the gold-spinning story, someone else—Rumpelstiltskin—did the actual spinning.

As Christians, we have the Holy Spirit in our lives. If we choose to have a "spinning" attitude, he will do the actual miracle. He will produce the gold. He will give us the faith we need to believe that this challenge will really work to strengthen us…and others.

Paul tells us in Romans 8:28 that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” This seems to me like a straw-into-gold kind of promise—one we can hold on to no matter what life brings us.