Thursday, December 11, 2014

Something to Believe In

A few years ago it became something of a tradition for me to dress up in a Santa suit and make an appearance at my grandchildren’s homes. 
I like it.  A lot more than I expected.  A lot of preparation goes into this event.  I have to change my appearance enough so they don’t recognize me.  
It’s a lot of work to become someone else to someone who knows you so well.  
A legend has even developed to explain the resemblance between Santa and Papa.  You see, Santa was going through Denmark, where my grandparents came from, one year many years ago.  He met and married a woman in my family, and so Santa and I are distant cousins which is why we look somewhat like each other.  It’s a family resemblance.  Which of course means that the kids are actually related to Santa.  I don’t think they’ve started bragging to their friends about it yet.  And I’m still not exactly sure how I’m going to explain the reality of Santa to them when they reach that point.  I have to acknowledge the fact that I have been lying to my grandchildren.  
Still working that one out.
I walk into the Christmas party and the eyes of every child are locked on to Santa with laser precision.    I even wore the suit to my church’s Harvest Carnival at Halloween one year.  I didn’t know what to dress up as, but then I realized I had this costume just sitting there waiting to be worn so I used it.  It was incredibly fun to see the looks on every kid’s face when they saw Santa at Halloween.  They all seemed to be in varying states of amazement, and the fact that I knew many of the kids there and called them by name made it almost epic. Kids across the street would point and yell, “Mom look!  IT’S SANTA!!” 
As I walked around with a Santa gift bag full of candy slung over my shoulder every child who saw me would simply stop and stare.  Sometimes their jaws would drop.  I would stop and open my bag and let them take some candy and talk to them for a minute.  Even as they reached into the bag to get their candy their wide eyes never left my face.  They were convinced that I was not a man in a costume even though it was Halloween.  
They believed I was Santa.

I made some discoveries about why I like it so much. 
When I walk into a room full of kids and they see Santa they really want to believe it’s Him!  They want Santa to be in that room, and they want to know that he knows them.  They want him to be real.
And this is essentially why I like it so much myself.  When a child looks at you with utter faith and devotion to who they believe you are it makes you want to do almost anything to fulfill their wishes. 
The dangerous part is that, for a little while at least, for just a moment, it makes you believe you actually can.
And there’s the rub.  Belief is a powerful thing, but when it’s directed at me I know I could never live up to the awe that I see in their eyes. 
We have a need to believe in someone.  We were created that way.  Without a focus for our belief we become aimless, weary, and despairing.  With nothing to believe in we die.
God knows this.  It’s why we have Christmas in the first place; to prove that God is real.  To know that He can live up to our faith, and actually exceed the limits of that faith.  To be completely and overwhelmingly real
And just to make sure we understand that reality He sends His son.  The flesh, blood, and bones of God.  Human like me, but worthy of my faith, my belief.  One who sees the darkest parts of my soul and does not shudder, who loves me nonetheless. The one who considers my life a gift to Him should I choose to give it, rather than the wreck I think I’ve made of it.
Believing and being believed in have two entirely different effects in our lives.
Believing in something is completely worthless.  There is no physical object worthy of our belief or devotion.  I might be devoted to a concept embodied by the object, but my belief cannot be in the object itself.  Its only value is in the amount of space it occupies.
Believing in someone is completely different.  A person can return your belief.  They can believe in you.  If you show them the truth of who you are then others can believe in you appropriately
There are times though, when I believe too much about someone.  I believe beyond their ability to fulfill my beliefs about them even though they have been honest about their abilities.  And sometimes they have presented a different face to me that belies the reality of who they are – this happens more often than I like.  It takes time to know a person well enough to believe in them.  A lot of time.
On the flip side, how does all this apply to myself? Am I showing others my true self?  Am I giving them enough of me for them to make an honest assessment of what they should believe about me?
Then there is the added dimension of whether or not I do, or should, accept what others believe about me.  Do they know me well enough to speak to this area of my life?  Can I be objective enough to hear if there is any truth to what they say, good or bad?  Does what they tell me serve me, or themselves?  Is it truth, or simply manipulation?  What kind of effect do they have on the lives of others to use as a litmus?
One of the main problems in our society is that we so often try to live up to someone else’s idea of who we are, or should be.  No one else’s opinion is ever objective, and rarely consistent.  I have seen so many relationships destroyed in the passion of a moment’s anger or misconception.  Few of us take the opportunity to look at the whole of the person we have known for a long time, and see what was said in the context of their humanity; their own faults and weaknesses. 
We have a need to believe in someone greater than ourselves.  
Think about this in realistic terms.  How would you feel if you had a friend who was rich and powerful, and neither of those terms applied to you?  Now think of how you would feel knowing that your friend had such a great love for you that he would give anything he had to care for you or protect you.  Most of us dream of being rich and powerful ourselves at some point in our lives, but we are also aware (usually) that we might not actually handle having all that very well.  I would likely squander much of it.  So, the idea of someone else having the responsibility for all of that is very appealing.  You know there is someone who always has your back, and has the ability to care for you in the right way.  When I was a child I knew that if an older kid picked on me one of my older brothers would “take care of the problem” if it became necessary.  The perpetrator would not go unscathed.  When I know someone who needs help with something that I can’t personally help them with I love to be able to say, “I know somebody who can help with that.”  But the fact is that I do bear responsibility for my own life, and the actions contained therein.  It’s also true that I am prone to failure, and I am just as responsible for that.
That’s why I believe in God.  I choose to believe in Him, because I want to believe what He believes about me.  He says He loves me.  He knows everything about me and does not waver in His attitude toward me.  He believes I can be better than I am, and because He sees me as pure as I was originally created to be I am inspired to be better than I am.  That’s not to say I am always successful.  I fail on a regular basis, but there’s always a better standard for me to return to.
When I was young and my parents had died, in the absence of an earthly father I eventually came to allow God to take over that role in my life, and I found Him to be a much different father than what I had expected of Him.  I found a father who has no faults who knows my shortcomings and loves me nonetheless.  
So this is the kind of man I now strive to be; in my case not to love others in spite of their shortcomings, but rather in spite of my own.  
My success in this varies greatly, but I keep trying because, honestly, there are a few people out there who really try my patience.  Particularly those who bully, threaten, or abuse others.  For them I just want to say “Back off, because you better believe Santa Claus is coming to town!”
My daughter told me a story of something that happened with my granddaughter Chloe a few months ago.  I’m not sure I remember all the details correctly but this is the main gist of it.  They had gone to a park so Chloe and one of her friends could play.  While they were there some older boys started to chase them.  Chloe was a little scared of them as they persisted, and so she stopped and turned to them and yelled what she seemed to think was the most powerful threat she could think of at the time; “You better stop, my Papa is DAN BODE!”  Apparently they left her alone after that.  I don’t know any of the kids there, and I was not present, but apparently she invoked my name with enough authority that they had second thoughts. 
I don’t believe in Santa the way I once did, but I still want my grandkids to, because then they unknowingly believe in me.  The thing is – they already believe in me.  They were raised with the knowledge that Papa has a special relationship with them, and they have lived according to that knowledge. 
The reason I believe in Christmas is because I believe in Easter.  Christ came into this world with an incredible lasting impact.  He left it with an even greater one.
No one else died to make a point of it.  Not on purpose. 
That’s really enough for me to place my trust and my belief in Him. 
©Dan Bode 2014

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Graceful Words

There is crimson ink with which the words of my life are written.
It is a Grace etched on paper filled with imperfections,
Despite which the words are clearly read.
In the silence of my night the scratch of the nib on the page of existence
And the rustle of the turning page
Bring me solace.
The book is thick
Merely one volume of many,
The words written small and tightly packed,
So much to say,
Yet with all the time necessary to say it,
If I would.
Many are never spoken,
Not allowed to see the light of day,
But there nonetheless
Etched permanently into my life,
But not always read.
Some are studiously ignored in my attempts to gain control,
But then an unseen hand turns a page,
Erases a line,
Closes a cover,
Starts a new chapter with fresh ink/blood/Grace
And we Begin Again.

©Dan Bode 2014

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Suicide and Choice

A few days after Robin Williams killed himself a guy named Matt Walsh wrote a blog post about his feelings and opinions regarding what happened titled: “Robin Williams didn’t die from a disease, he died from his choice”.  It was shared by a lot of people on social media and there were many and varied responses to the post.  A friend of mine shared it on his page and there were a lot of comments to it that led me to respond to it based on my own experiences as a “survivor”.  I commented with some basic thoughts, but I wanted to expand on it more so I added some more thoughts and am posting it here.  Everyone has something to say, and for the most part I feel like telling everyone that really when it comes right down to it: your opinion and mine is completely irrelevant.  But no one believes that anyway.  We all want to think that what we have to say Must Be Heard!  So, in that spirit, here is my response:

I usually don't get into discussions like this but I feel the need to say something here. My father committed suicide when I was 14. My wife committed suicide 2 1/2 years ago. I'm a former (and probably returning) Marriage and Family Therapist. I also read the article.
He does specifically say that he has dealt with this in his own life for a long time which people seem to keep ignoring in their comments for whatever reason.  I do think he would have been better off waiting for a little while to post it when the communal pain has lessened somewhat and we process it better, but that’s just my opinion.
Depression has clinical, emotional and spiritual dimensions that must be dealt with together.  Drugs have a place in the process but are not the end all.  There has to be therapy and network of friends to sustain them. There are some problems with this.  You can’t force someone to make and maintain contact with other people.  This is their choice.  If you call someone they choose to answer the phone or not.  If you go to their house they choose to answer the door or not.   We all make bad choices in our lives, but most of the time those choices do not have lethal consequences.
Clinical depression is more than just a feeling that we can talk ourselves out of.  There is more than one dimension to it, but we often refuse to look at from a multi-dimensional standpoint.  Our medical society wants to throw drugs at the problem and get us out the door.  Our spiritual society has, until recently, treated it as a purely spiritual issue that can be “prayed away”.  It can’t be treated one dimensionaly.  There’s a book that was written several years ago titled, “Why do Christians Shoot Their Wounded”.  It talks about this issue in detail.  Chemical imbalances by nature are an actual physical issue, but we tend to treat it as a more purely spiritual issue because it is expressed in our behavior and the things we say while under the influence of the imbalance.
The people left behind to deal with the aftermath WILL feel guilt.  It’s a given.  They will always have to deal with it and ultimately come to their own conclusion that the choice of the person who died was only his/her responsibility.  Not theirs.  I know this to be true.  To say they didn’t have a choice takes the responsibility for that choice off of the suicidal persons shoulders and leaves others thinking that there’s no hope – that they can’t make a better choice.  It also inhibits those left behind from getting the help they need because they always feel if they had just done one thing different everything would be better.
Everyone wants to do something, or blame something, or give responsibility to something other than the one responsible: the suicidal person.  We can’t have it both ways.  We can’t deny the horror of the act, and say it wasn’t his fault.  The fault lies with no one else.  The truth is it just makes us feel better to say it one way rather than the other.
Robin Williams was a good man who had an incredible impact on the world.  Because he made a bad choice does not make him a bad person.  His final choice does not negate what he did in life.  We don’t want to say anything bad about the dead so we don’t speak honestly about the issues that death reveals to us.  Our concerns are in reality concerns about what we have lost.  Denying the responsibility of his choice doesn’t make him better/worse.  It doesn’t make him less loved.  It does make it supremely more difficult for those left behind to deal with the real world impact of what he did.  They will be victimized by their own thoughts.  “What could I have done differently?” “Why didn’t I say this instead of that?” “Why wasn’t I there?”
The fact is, they make a choice, and they will find a way to carry it out.  The fact is the truly suicidal person is not concerned with what will happen to those they leave behind.  I know this to be true as well.  They are, at that point, truly selfish in their choice.  It might possibly be the only truly selfish moment of their lives if they are someone who gave of themselves so much in their lifetime.  They are simply unable to see past their own pain in that moment.  There are many people who are truly noticed as much by their absence as by their presence.  The clinically depressed person often hides the signs of their depression very well.  They are consciously aware of what they are doing and putting a different face on for everyone else to see.  Robin Williams was one of the few who were very open about it, and the public was then able to live with the illusion that he was taking care of it.  This makes the fact that he made this choice that much harder to accept.  Because he was so greatly admired and selfless in life no one wants to speak the truth and admit that he was, in that moment, selfish.  We are often upset when someone speaks the truth that doesn’t match our perception of someone else.
His family will go through a great deal emotionally in the coming years. They know he loved them completely.  But he still killed himself.  The anger and resentment they will eventually have to deal with will be hell for them, because it’s almost impossible to reconcile love and suicide.  And do you know the sad part of this? There are multitudes of people out there in social media that will be angry at them for feeling that way. People who didn’t know him or his family who think they know better.  To those I would say now in a pre-emptive statement:

Shut. The. Hell. Up.  Leave them alone.  They don’t need you to help them grieve.  They have enough of their own and will choose those who will help them get through it themselves.

And finally, remember that Matt Walsh writes a blog.  It’s one person’s opinion.  Just as is my blog that you’re reading now.  You can accept it or not, but no one is asking you to live your life by what he says.  He says some good stuff and some not so good stuff.  He’s as human as you and I.  As human as us and Robin Williams.  He seems to be speaking from his personal experience with this issue, and it sounds like a pretty raw knee jerk reaction incited by his own pain in dealing with the issue.
What you do with it is your choice.
©Dan Bode 2014

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Un-obligatory Father's Day Post

I am writing this for Father's Day, but not because it's Father's Day.  It's not something I feel I have to do.  It's something I want to do.
I'm writing it because Father's Day simply reminded me of what it has been like for me to be a father.  I've said before that any good that I accomplished as a father is not due to my own abilities.  If I have ever been good as a father, it is only because of the quality of my children.  I could not have asked for two better daughters than the two I have.  The women they have become are far beyond what I would have been able to imagine on my own.  I am forever grateful that they were given into my care.

I always think of my own father at this time.  Actually, I think of him quite often.  I have so many questions for him.  My father killed himself when I was 15, and my ability to get any answers was effectively stifled.  I would have wanted to know what it was like for him when he first became a father.  Mostly I would have liked for my daughters to have known him. 
When I look back at my life with my father I have to acknowledge that despite all of his faults, he was, ultimately, a good father to me.  In saying that I have to qualify it with the fact that I am the youngest of six children, and my siblings experiences with my father were very different than mine. 
My father was an alcoholic.  The last time I saw him he was drunk.  And yet, despite this, to me he was a good father.  My memories of life with him were generally positive.  He was a firm disciplinarian which I can attest to having felt the thickness of the calluses on his hands when he spanked me on my bare backside.  I also have to admit that I earned every spanking I got.  The other times when I had his attention were when he played catch with me, or showed me what he was working on in the garage whether it was a car or carpentry project.  I remember distinctly one time when he was making some bookends for my sister Diane, and he asked my opinion on how the pieces of wood looked when arranged in a certain way.  "I like them that way." I said.  He looked at me and smiled and said, "Ok.  Then that's the way I'll do it."  In that one moment of my childhood I felt completely valued by him.

I have to say though, that despite how his life ended, he was a good father to me, and I believe this is due in large part to my older siblings.  Their life with my father was very different than mine.  Their experiences with his alcoholism and controlling personality were far more direct, and frequent, than mine ever were.   I believe very firmly that my mother, my brothers and my sisters taught him to be a good father.  They took upon themselves all the pain in their relationships with him, and in effect, extended a Grace that covered me before I was even born.  They protected me so that I might have the good father that they missed.  They made him a good father for me.
And even beyond that, when I went to live at different times with my brother Bill, and later with my sister Diane, they became the parents I needed which is a debt I can never adequately repay, and one they would never ask me to.

For this I will always be grateful to all of them. 

In addition to all this I learned that God directly replaced my father's presence with His own when I finally chose to listen to Him.  This was the single most important choice I have made in my life, and I have never regretted it. 

Now I look at my own daughters, and I will never be able to express how grateful I am to be their father.  With all of the pain and sorrow inflicted upon them in their lives they still choose to love me.  And again that Grace is extended to me, and it makes my life more than worth it.

I am blessed beyond measure.

So, on Father's Day, the only gift I will ever want is to know that my children actually want to be near me.  I could ask for nothing better, nor desire anything more.

To my daughters, Jennifer and Kaytie, thank you for letting me be your father.

©Dan Bode 2014

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Follow Your Doctor's Orders or You Will Lose Your Beard - Things You Never Think Will Happen To You

A few months ago I went to my doctor and told her I was having trouble sleeping, and asked if I could get something to help.  This is probably something you should never do.  Because they have stuff that will help, but it helps just a little too much.  I had tried all the herbal natural remedies and they just weren't doing anything.  So I went in to the office and we discussed my options.

She told me the primary stuff available (which will go unnamed by me) was effective, but it had some side effects.

"If you have problems with sleep-walking then you shouldn't take this, because it will make it worse."

"I've never had a problem with sleep-walking."

"Ok, we can try this first then.  Seriously though if you find stuff has been moved around in your house and you don't remember doing it you need to stop taking it."

"Umm.... ok..."

"I'm totally serious.  Take it right before you get in bed.  Don't take it and wait for it to start working, and then start doing chores or something.  You'll wind up doing stuff you didn't mean to."

"No problem!", I said, laughing.  I mean, really, what could happen?

So I took it home and tried it a few times, and it seemed to work ok.  I didn't need it again for a while and had more or less forgotten about it until the other night.  I had been coughing a lot due to my allergies, and having trouble falling asleep.  I decided this might be a good time to use it again.  So I took a pill, and, instead of going straight to bed, I decided to finish watching the show I had recorded earlier which had about 45 minutes remaining. 
I finished the show and walked into the bathroom.  I looked in the mirror and realized that I hadn't trimmed my beard properly for about a week and a half.  It was looking a little shaggy.  I picked up the trimmer and started trimming. 
Everything after this is kind of a bizarre haze....
One minute I was trimming, and then the trimmer was going straight across my chin and it was GONE! 
I could see my chin! 
I just stared at myself.
"Hmmm...  Something's different.... "
I looked down at my hand at the trimmer buzzing away contentedly.  Puzzled, I turned it off.  I set it down. 
I looked in the mirror. 
"My beard is gone...  When did that happen?..."
I had a vague memory of running the trimmer straight across my chin instead of just trimming the edges...  Suddenly I wondered if this is what Pooh Bear feels like when he says, "Oh bother..."
Then a thought surfaced, "I think I did something wrong...  I should go to bed.  Yup.  That's what I was going to do."
I moved to go to bed, and remembered my dog, Bean.  He needed to go to bed too.  Sometimes Bean has a problem settling down when it's time for bed so I got him a special collar that helps him relax.  It's green and plastic and it's loaded with pheromones that supposedly makes him think comforting thoughts about his mother or something like that.  I'm not sure if that's what he really thinks about or not, but I do know every time I put it on him he gets all Zen on me and lays down and looks happy.  And he sleeps pretty well.
I had the collar in my hand, and I honestly remember wondering if I should put it on myself.  But I realized that I didn't really need to think about Bean's mother.
I slowly and deliberately made a point of locking every single door and window in the house.  I think I examined the locks pretty well too.  I went to bed.  I think.  I remember laying down while Bean and I stared at each other.  He had his collar on which, by the way, I noticed actually glows in the dark.  He looked content.  I remember waking up briefly to the sound of Bean quietly "woofing" in his sleep.  Probably dreaming of running through a field of high grass next to his mother.
I woke up the next morning and went in to the bathroom and looked in the mirror. 
My beard was gone. 
My chin was naked for the world to see. 
I now have two new rules:
1. I am never taking one of those pills again.  Unless I decide to shave my beard off.
2. Follow the doctor's orders or you will lose your beard.
©Dan Bode 2014


Sunday, April 20, 2014

A Splash of Blood - Happy Easter Everyone!

I was walking to work one day, and I noticed something on the sidewalk. I had actually seen it before, but never attached any significance to identifying it.
It was a stain left by some dark liquid that had splashed and dried. There was a trail of drops leading away from it back up the sidewalk for a few feet where it ended. It was interrupted by a footprint that cut across the trail. I had seen it for a few days prior to this, but in my hurry to get to my desk each morning I had given it almost no thought. Why today it caught my eye I have no idea, but as I passed it again this day I noticed the color of the substance. It was a deep, reddish brown.
I stopped in shocked realization that I was looking at blood!
How many people had walked past or over it every day and given it no notice? How and why had this that had passed through someone’s veins been so haphazardly spilled? It was no small amount. If I had a wound that allowed that great a loss I would surely seek help with it. There was no way to tell how this occurred, and yet my mind called up violent images that seemed unavoidable. How could blood be spilled after all without violence in such a public place without edge or forceful impact? And then I had to ask how having spilled could it be so easily ignored, as I had in fact done? How could I not have seen it for what it was?
It had to follow, of course, that my thoughts would lead me to Someone else’s blood, also shed with violence, but violence that ended in glorious purpose. And just as so many of us had walked over this splash on the sidewalk, how many have waded through rivers of the stuff that rage across our lives grasping for our attention only to be studiously ignored in an effort to maintain our self determined path at cross purposes to the Truth? What does it take for God to get my attention?
Just who am I living for anyway?
In the process of the Hebrew sacrificial rites that ended when the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, one of the final acts was the pouring of the “drink offering”. Thus Paul, when he felt his death was near, wrote that he was being “poured out as a drink offering” (2Tim. 4:6). But just as Christ was the final sacrifice, so His blood is the final blood shed for our redemption, as He said at the last supper , “Drink from it all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matt. 26:27b-28) And yet as final as that act is the flow continues at whatever rate is necessary to cover the sins of this world, for where sin is grace abounds.
What all this means is that we must let go, dive in, “go with the flow”, drowning and dying to live again.
And it all started one night long ago in Jerusalem.
Satan called upon Death, his most powerful weapon, to finally put a stop to the machinations of grace which Christ had begun. Death was a warrior at whose feet everyone had ultimately fallen. Death took Christ up in his giant fist and began to squeeze the life out of Him.
This Blood, this stuff of eternal life began to flow one drop at a time.
The whip scourges the smooth skin of Christ’s back.
Death is confused by this sudden pain he has never felt before, caused by the touch of the blood of this Lamb.
The crown of thorns is beaten down upon His brow.
Death begins to squeeze harder and harder trying to stanch the flow.
The nails are driven through Christ’s wide open hands.
Drip. Drip.
His body is taken down from the cross.
Death has used up all his strength to vanquish the enemy of Hell.
Drip. Drip. Drip.
The stone is rolled away.
Death collapses, defeated, destroyed, a useless and empty husk.
Drip. Drip. Drip. Drip.
Death has himself died, and from his lifeless grasp Christ has risen!
“O death, where is your victory?”(1Cor. 15:55)
Thomas places his doubting fingers in Christ’s open wounds.
The apostles live and die for the life He gave them.
And as every river starts with just a trickle so this trickle becomes a torrent raging across time that no force of darkness can ever hope to stop, divert or slow.
“…this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many…”
He left a trail of blood that you can miss only after you have seen it first, and actively choose to turn away, but the Word was made flesh and He refuses to be ignored!
God could never again be relegated to the back of our minds as a mere “concept” anymore. He created a hallowed ground in every human heart; a holy of holies where only He can tread. His presence there suddenly made one thing obvious:
A choice must be made.
Always a choice.
Live or die.
You have a 50/50 chance of survival if you’re merely looking at the odds, but if you choose life it’s a 100% guarantee.
It seems a simple choice, but we make it difficult when we think we have a lot to lose. We try to hang on to what we have by shedding our own blood to pay the price for our freedom, but all I have is as nothing against the payment of this debt. And the only thing I have to show for my efforts are the scars left from where I’ve ironically slashed my own wrists trying to save myself.
Every year we celebrate Easter. Like many other things the true purpose of this occasion has been overshadowed by meaningless customs involving eggs, chocolate bunnies and new hats.
But some of us will remember.
I tend to look at it as two distinct events; His Passion and His resurrection. In reality I should see them as one. His death and resurrection were a single process that qualified Him as the complete sacrifice once and for all. Both events had to occur in order for His life to be enough to tip the scales in my favor.
Some only see the inside of a church at Christmas and Easter, and I suppose if you are only going to come twice a year those are the times for it. But I have to wonder if you aren’t hearing the same message both times.
At Christmas you hear the announcement of the angelic host:
He Lives!
Throughout Christ’s entire life on earth He prepares us for the show of strength that only He could perform. The one thing we take most for granted in Christ’s existence. For the Point of Easter, the Bottom Line, the Final Act is really the same that we hear at Christmas.
The inevitable conclusion of Christ is this same angelic message at Easter:
He Lives!

And as we come and sit on the banks of this never ending river of cleansing, bloody Grace, as we begin to comprehend that the supply never runs out we realize:
He Lives!
©Dan Bode 2005

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Truth and Forgiveness - Here's another old one. I realize that I haven't posted anything new lately. There are a lot in the works but nothing completed. I've been realizing that all the stuff I wrote before were really just lessons I would need for this part of my life. I run across them just when I need them.Weird how God does that.

Truth and forgiveness are intimately intertwined.
It is often the truth of who we are or what we do that requires forgiveness.
That is what makes the forgiveness of Christ so profound.
I have asked forgiveness of other people innumerable times.  I am guilty of some offense that requires the salving of my conscience on a regular basis.  It is the lack of truth in my life, thoughts, or actions that leads to the need for forgiveness.  It is the inevitable search for truth that ultimately leads to the act of forgiveness. 
I may be lying to myself on some point of my personality.  I may have done something wrong intentionally or not that requires correction.  It is the application of truth that determines whether these things are brought to light and made right, or left uncorrected to fester and become a thorn in my side.  Have you ever noticed how “one lie deserves another”?  No fabrication is made up of just one line.  It’s a whole complicated structure.   The further along we go in its construction, the more difficult it is to come clean with the truth.   
There is so much tied up in those words it would take a lifetime to unravel it all. 
As a matter of fact, it took a life in order for us to have access to it.
The process of confession and forgiveness is painful for both the offender and the one offended. 
For the offender he or she must acknowledge that they have done something offensive.  He must see that someone has been hurt.  He must be willing to provide some recompense for the offense in order to make it right. 
A sacrifice is required.
For the one offended the hurt must be revisited.  What did this cost him or her in terms of pain?  What sacrifice can reasonably be demanded to satisfy the debt caused by the offense?  What price will he put on a damaged life?  Is he willing and capable of allowing that debt to be wiped away, and risk experiencing the same hurt again as if it had not happened before? 
This was the point of Jesus’ dialogue with His disciples when He was asked how many times someone should be forgiven. 
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?"
Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matt. 18:21-22 NIV)
Would it be up to the seven times in one day prescribed by Jewish law?  Rather it should be seventy-seven times!  It should be far beyond what is considered humanly possible, because God has taken responsibility for vengeance.  It is completely beyond human expectations.  Not only that, but He has made a relationship with Him dependent on our practice of the forgiveness of those who have offended us!
“For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matt. 6:14-15 NIV)
We must also understand that Truth is dependant on Grace in order for Forgiveness to be effective.
If I live by Truth alone I will become a legalist.  Truth alone does not allow for the impact of the pain of its existence.  Truth and honesty are virtuous attributes, but can they stand alone as foundational concepts to our lives without the strength provided for in Forgiveness and Grace?  I don’t think so.  Truth is often dealt with in terms of cold hard facts.  “This is the Truth, and there is nothing else to say about it.  Punishment for the offense must go forward.”  This is legalism.  There is no quarter given, no compassion shown.  No absolution offered.  This is the Law and nothing more.
This is where we begin to gain some concept of the depth of the Grace and Forgiveness offered by Christ.  Legalism is born of man’s inherent need for vengeance when wronged.  For this reason God took away man’s claim to revenge when He said, “Vengeance is mine.” (Deut. 32:35 NIV)  He sealed that claim even further with the death of Christ.  Man is not qualified to properly demand recompense when he is wronged.  Only God can be completely fair, and in His fairness He also knows that a sacrifice is required of someone at some point in order to satisfy that need for vengeance.  So He gave His Son to once and finally satisfy the need for vengeance, as the recompense for peace.
But it really goes even further than this. 
According to scripture it is appointed for man to die once.  The sequence of living is no accident: birth – life – death.  That’s it.  There is no continuously repeating cycle.  We die and we gain our reward. 
To die with meaning requires an abundant life, not necessarily a long one.
It’s easy to die for something.  Once dead our commitment to this world is over.  Death bed promises made to, or by, anyone are irrelevant; they mean nothing where we go. 
Dying is easy.  It’s the living with or through something that’s difficult.
It is significant to note that Christ did both.
He died for our sins, but then lived again with the intention of living through it with us again, and again, and again.
Anyone can die, and every one of us will.  But dying is only half the commitment.  Living again is the other half.
Such is the depth of His commitment.  Christ died to prove His point, but He is the only one capable of fulfilling it.
There is no telling what each of us might accomplish with a life committed to Christ.  Only He knows what we are capable of, and what we will actually do.
Dying is easy – crowns, mansions, streets of gold – not such a hard choice when you really stop to think about it.  It’s living a life of joyful anticipation that’s difficult.
That is why we are called to be “living sacrifices” (Romans 12:1 NIV).
It is hard to imagine that our greatest joy in this life is completely overshadowed by the joys of the next, and once having grasped that concept to then have to wait.
When my oldest daughter Jennifer was a little girl she once asked, among the enormous volume of questions she had in life, what heaven would be like.  I told her that I didn’t really know all the details, but it would be beautiful. 
“What will we do there?” she asked.
“Well the Bible says we’ll be spending a lot of time praising God for starters.” I said.
We said our prayers together and put her and her sister to bed.  After a few minutes she yelled for me in a way that any parent can tell that something is wrong.  Her mother and I ran into her room and turned on the light.  She was sitting up in bed crying.
We went over to her to comfort her thinking that we were dealing with fears of the dark or something like that.  Not so.
“You know when you told me what we’d be doing in heaven?” she asked.
“Sure.” I said, puzzled.
As she broke into tears again she asked, “What if I get bored?”
I suppose that’s part of the mystery.  How does one imagine the things of heaven can satisfy the needs of man?  We have to look at the possibility of heaven as reality in order for it to have an impact on the life we’re living now.
Living is the long wait for the best part.
The Truth we live with is that we have dirtied ourselves and are not qualified or able to obtain the rewards we are promised.  Therefore we must be given the cleansing Forgiveness required by someone stronger, and truthfully qualified, to give it.  Our feet must be washed by the hand of the Servant King who is the only One clean enough to dispel the filth we have picked up along the path.
So when next forgiveness is asked of me I must asked myself if what I give is genuine or is it merely to salve my own conscience?  Is the forgiveness I offer the complete forgiveness of the Sacrifice?  Is there Truth in my Forgiveness, or is it merely palliative to allow myself to feel better about myself?  Does it truly encompass the desire of the God of heaven?
Forgiveness inspires questions, questions, questions….
And all of their answers require the Truth.
©Dan Bode 2003

Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Joy of Discovery - Every once in a while I read some old stuff, and I realize there are so many lessons He's already taught me, and I've just been spinning my wheels trying to learn it all over again! This is one of those from 2008..

We started our little excursion with great expectations.  We were eagerly anticipating the excited exclamations over all the new experiences to come.
My wife and I were given the opportunity to take our then 11 month old granddaughter Kaya to the zoo for the first time.  We thought that the variety of the animals would consume all of her attention, and that she would thrill to the sites of all the exotic places represented in the confines of the zoo. 
We were wrong. 
At our house she is fascinated by the dog and the cat. 
I think it’s probably fair to say the fascination is not necessarily mutual.  While our dog seemingly can’t get enough of her, the cat tends to quietly walk (or run) the other way when she approaches her.  There at the zoo she saw animals like the giraffe, the tiger, monkeys, snakes, flamingoes, and even the rear paw of a lion who was wisely lounging in the shade of a rock in the 103 degree heat.  They used to have a hippo, which was kind of fun to watch when they fed it, but I think it died several years ago and they haven’t put anything else in its pen.  How do you tell when a hippo is dead anyway?  Does it actually go belly up like a goldfish, or does it just float there like it does when it’s alive?  Something to ponder.  Anyway, I suppose the heat had something to do with Kaya’s lack of appreciation as well; it certainly sapped a lot of our enthusiasm. 
Instead, when she was given the opportunity to choose her own object of interest, she sat down on the ground and picked up a dried leaf.  She stared at it in fascination for a few moments and then proceeded to bring it toward her mouth for a taste test.  I’m relatively confident that she has a discerning enough palate that she would have grimaced and spit it out, but you never really know at that age so my wife deftly intercepted it before she reached her goal. 
In retrospect I suppose we should have expected this.  She was at a stage in her development where she was more acutely concerned with what was immediately within her reach.  The dog and the cat are within her reach; the giraffe and the screaming monkey were not.
It seems as though we often have an appreciation of simple things only when we first discover them, or when know we are about to lose them forever. 
The beginning or the end. 
The first flush of passion in a relationship puts our entire life plan in a new light.  By the same token, the end of that relationship will often cause us to make terribly unwise decisions that we only recognize as unwise in hindsight.
When we find ourselves in a situation that we dislike our tendency is to berate ourselves (or someone else depending on how well we accept personal responsibility) for the actions we took that put us there instead of dealing with the situation as it is. 

Over the years as Kaya has grown I have watched her develop in ways that I knew would eventually happen, but astound me even though I expect them.  When she was two she had a different point of view.
On a typical drive home for my daughter Jennifer, and Kaya they were just driving along talking about whatever came to Kaya’s mind.  She was talking about some trees.  Jennifer asked, “How big were they?”
Holding her hands up above her head as high as she could Kaya replied,
“They were THIS big!”
And then, with her hands still in the air, she looked to the side and asked,
“Do trees have armpits?”
Jennifer laughed, and I laughed when she told me about it.  But then I started to think about it a little. 
Do trees have armpits?
My immediate and automatic response is “no”, but how do I know this?  Just because I never thought to ask the question doesn’t automatically mean it’s not so.  I can’t recall anytime in my life in which I’ve heard the words “trees” and “armpits” in the same sentence. 
So who am I to say “no” definitively?
So I did some research. 
We have a sycamore tree in our front yard that I planted several years ago.  It has grown well and quickly, but I’m going to have to cut it down and plant another one.  I didn’t plant it correctly and now I have a lot of surface roots, and surface roots on a tree that can grow to 30-40 feet tall right in front of my house is not a good thing.  Anyway, it has a lot of low branches that are perfect for just this kind of research.  I went out to the front yard, at night, after looking around carefully to make sure no one was watching, and I sniffed the tree right where the branch joins the trunk.  It smelled like I would expect a tree to smell; kind of green, and woody.  Definitely woody.
I smelled another part of the tree at the trunk.  It was the same.
Next I went to that source of information that everyone knows is absolutely ironclad in its accuracy: the internet.
I actually found several references to the armpits of trees, but they were used figuratively by artists in their description of a tree.  No one really identified a tree armpit as an actual thing. 
Regardless, I don’t think I will ever look at the point where the branch of a tree meets the trunk in the same way ever again.

Kaya is now three and a half, and her dialogue has taken another turn.
In another discussion with her mother she stated,
“I think when God made me it was like a puzzle for Him.”
“What do you mean?” asked her mother.
“I mean that when God put me together it was like putting a puzzle together.”
I’m pretty sure when I was three and a half I NEVER got philosophical about the process of my creation. 

It occurs to me when she says something new that she is in the process of discovery.  She sees it all with new eyes.  No matter how many times she sees something, or how much she actually knows about it, she seems to sense that there is still something about it that is new to her.  There is still some mystery left in everything, but I, in my adult “wisdom”, have chosen to focus only on what I know instead of pursuing what I don’t know.  In doing so I have remained safely rooted on the “solid” ground of my own knowledge.  I have effectively clipped my own wings.  I have bound myself to man’s earth and denied myself the heavens.
Jesus said, “Behold I am making all things new.” (Rev. 21:5). This is the same line that we Christians only read occasionally and rarely ever apply.  It takes a crisis of major proportion to bring us to the point where we see the old as new, and the sunrise as original as the sunset.  My granddaughter is fascinated with dried leaves, and yet it takes space probes to Mars and beyond to hold my attention.  I cannot make a leaf or a blade of grass, and yet the process of its growth only concerns me as far as my need to rake it up or mow it down.  Even closer to home is my own body.  I abuse it regularly, but I take little heed from my doctor when he tells me what I need to do to care for it properly, and it is such an incredible wonder of creation! 
And I can’t be the only one to realize at moments like this that in the end I really have no ability to create anything at all.  The only skill man has is to manipulate what has already been created.  We certainly have the ability to warp and abuse this creation, and we do so regularly to our shame, but really create?  No.  The simple fact that we exist as created beings means that we cannot create something out of nothing, because we ourselves are created.  The title of Creator can only be applied to the one who was there first, and that is God alone; the First and Last, the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End. 
We are only stewards of what is.
There are things to wonder at all around us, but our preoccupation with “progress” and “forward” thinking causes all of them to be ignored, left to lie haphazardly in our destructive wake, and leaves us in a related state of ignorance.

Once discovered, how can I ignore the reality of what He sets before me? 
It may seem as though this indicates some special divine attention to my life, but that is not so.  He gives the same attention to each of us, and I am loved by Him no more than anyone else, but just as certainly no less.  He loves each of us with His whole being; for when we are told “God is Love” it means that He is Love.  He is the only source of it.  It is who He is. 
It is when my pursuit of His presence takes an active note in my life that I begin to see things more clearly, because a relationship with Him requires my active participation, just as He has actively put me in this world.  It is my responsibility to move in this life rather than sit and wait for my inevitable death.  I cannot sit and do nothing while I am pinned beneath the boulder of my doubts.  What holds me back must be let go, done away with, cut off.   Amputation is never pretty whether it’s done in the wilderness or on the surgeon’s table, but it is often necessary for survival.  The truth of the matter is that a relationship with Christ is a transaction: You give Him all of you, and He gives you more than you could ever be on your own, and more than you ever even thought to want. 
The process of discovery, as I recognize all that He puts in front of me, is His method of showing me His active, daily presence. 
This is where I discover the gap in my life.
This is a gap that even the love of God will not cross. 
It is the gap of my own choice. 
That choice is the most important thing that Christ has given me.  It is the only thing that allows grace to save me from His wrath, for while God is love He is also just, and in His justice He demands that all debts be paid by me, or by Him. 
And I myself am wholly incapable of settling that debt.
And so the process of discovery, while usually worked out at the beginning or the end, really should be a continuous practice that starts at the beginning and never has an end.  It has eternal potential depending on our choice.
Christmas is the offer, Good Friday is the payment, Easter is the redemption, and His flowing blood is the currency of my survival.  
My choice of Him seals the transaction in my favor.
The Choice, beloved (for you are His beloved), is yours.
©2008 Dan Bode