Archives for the month of: September, 2012

For years I have known the passing of my father would leave a different kind of hole than the loss of my mother. I’ve been thinking about my dad a lot lately as last week would have been his 96th birthday. He died last summer, mere weeks away from birthday number 95. He and my father-in-law went home to be with the Lord within 7 days of one another. They both died on a Sunday – their favorite day of the week! My dad did not live long enough to get the word that Jeff and I would be moving to Africa. I like to think he would have been very proud. The untimely passing of my mom when I was a mere 10 years of age formed a grief around what never was: the graduations, weddings, births, and daily life events that have always contain an ache. I have passed most of my life without her. On the other hand there are many days it is still hard to grasp that my dad has passed out of my life. I feel his absence with a different kind of ache. He was my constant cheerleader in my adult life and never failed to have interest in the smallest detail. And so I am sad that he never knew we were coming to Africa. But to understand that, you’d have to have a sense of how much he loved Africa and why. Growing up as an Innis (my maiden name) meant that the family pride around Uncle Herb and Aunt Grace always produced tales of their African adventure at any family gathering. Living here myself now causes me to reflect on it  differently – not to mention that I wish I’d listened to the details better!  What a monumental undertaking going to Kenya Colony was all those years ago. How they would marvel to think it took Jeff and I a mere 16 hours. However,why we are here has more to do with my dad than my great uncle. My dad was a visionary. It was actually Jeff that helped me see that. “Wow“, Jeff declared  back in 1975, “your dad retired from a lucrative career with the government to enter the ministry to make less money! I never knew anybody who did that. Where I live, lots of folks retire early to move to a sunny place and play golf. But not to go back to college to become a poorly paid pastor.”

There were few subjects my dad didn’t at least know something about. He had an inspiring thirst for knowledge and found the world in most aspects, to be a fascinating place about which he was always interested in learning more. A man of boundless energy – the first  to rise and usually the last to bed even well into his 70’s and 80’s.

At my age – 57 – I am well aware he was not infallible and that some of his relationships were deeply flawed. I can only speak from my perspective. His notions of when to stop pushing the outer limits, of when it was time to retire, of  when to quit making new beginnings, and starting new careers has served as a model for me and Jeff. He redefined retirement for his generation. Perhaps that’s why, even in light of the fact that at 94 most of his peers had passed on, his funeral was standing room only. Pastors mostly. What a blessing when  many hands extended to me “I knew your Dad – he was such an encouragement to me” So my heart aches some when ever I consider him knowing I was here. There is no question in my mind he would have been our biggest supporter because right behind, and only second to his enthusiasm is my dear, dear Aunt Sophy. And even though the goodbye grieved her in a way all to reminiscent of the departure of her Uncle Herb, she did not falter in her support of us. She may well be the last of that generation who really remembers the mingled sorrow and joy of those long ago partings. Because while I may not remember as many specifics as I wish I could, one thing that those family gatherings always made clear; they were all incredibly proud of Uncle Herb. Never a doubt about that.

Part two coming soon.

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From where I stand right now I think the “Western Church” including the church in the USA has this statement of Paul’s – “For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” backwards. The way it is read by Christians in the USA goes like this, “For to me to live is gain and to die is Christ”. Allow me to explain.

Let’s examine the ‘gain’ portion for a moment in the first part of this backwards statement, the Christian community in America, that I consider myself a part of since I am both a Christian and American, seems to have completely bought into the cultural norm of accumulating “THINGS”. Line up American Christians and non-Christians alike beside one another and examine the group under a filter highlighting materialism and I believe you would see little difference. Unfortunately, I believe the Christian community has allowed marketing experts to change their minds. What were once considered luxuries are now considered necessities among my fellow Christians – Christians that are not to be conformed to this world (Rom 12:2). Comfort, entertainment, and ease of life have all become the driver of our lives. Living among poverty, as Elsa and I do right now, we see it in a completely different way – in a way that can not be ignored. Many people here in Botswana “work in order to live” earning just enough money to buy food to stay alive whereas many in the US “live in order to work” earning money to buy things that ultimately add to their comfort, entertainment, and ease of life.

Now to the second part of the backwards statement – “to die is Christ”. By placing the word Christ at the end of the statement I am suggesting that Christ does not have preeminence in our lives here on earth. Christ resides in Heaven and we will see Him when we die which is certainly true but we are missing the fact that we can be in fellowship with Christ even now on earth. Instead we are consumed more with acquiring comfort, entertainment, and ease of life. It is almost as if our salvation experience has become nothing more than the “ticket out of here for heaven”. When Paul said, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” he was saying that he enjoyed fellowship with Christ even before his physical death. Paul had placed himself in a position where he had to rely on Christ to carry him through and he had done it multiple times. How many times can you and I honestly say that we voluntarily placed ourselves in a position where our well being – or maybe even our life, depended on God’s direct intervention? Believe me when I say that I am not patting myself on the back here but over the last 5 months, Elsa and I have been relying on Christ perhaps more than we ever have in our entire lives. We have grown spiritually because we have had no choice but to rely on Christ. Like Paul, we placed ourselves in a position where we depended on Christ 100%. To be honest with you, it was real tough since many Christians suggested we were acting irresponsibly before we left for Botswana. Sometimes following Christ does appear irresponsible. Consider a statement that Francis Chan makes in his book Crazy Love in relation to Hebrews 11: 6 which says: But without faith it is impossible to please Him: for he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him. Chan says, “But God doesn’t call us to be comfortable, He calls us to trust Him so completely that we are unafraid to put ourselves in situations where we will be in trouble if he doesn’t come through.”

Maybe now that I think of it, the way we really read this statement of Paul’s and the resulting attitude and example we display goes like this, “For me to live is gain, and to die is gain.” We American Christians  live our physical life on earth acquiring comfort, entertainment, and ease of life. And when we die it will get even better. Is that what the Christian Life is supposed to be?

A book I read a couple of years ago that was in part, responsible for my current thinking is Radical by David Platt. If you found my thoughts on this passage intriguing, I think you will enjoy the book. Here is just one of many quotes of his that I found compelling, “The gospel reveals eternal realities about God that we would sometimes rather not face…. maybe this is why we fill our lives with the constant drivel of entertainment in our culture and in the church. We are afraid that if we stop and really look at God in His Word we might discover that He evokes greater awe and demands deeper worship than we are ready to give Him.”

Jeff