Because God is not hiding…

I thought this a fascinating look from long ago at our doctors and nurses.   Jeremy Taylor  wrote these words in 1652 a book scintillatingly titled, “The Rule and Exercises of Holy Dying”.  To wit: Regard your doctor as God’s minister, and your nurse as a blessing, not a punching bag!

Blessing and thanks to our health care professionals!  (Bonus points if you know what a “cataplasm” is!)

Steve

Physicians are the Ministers of God’s mercies and providence, in the matter of health and ease, of restitution or death; and when God shall enable their judgments, and direct their counsels, and prosper their medicines, they shall do thee good, for which you must give God thanks, and to the physician the honor of a blessed instrument.

Treat thy nurses and servants sweetly, and as it becomes an obliged and a necessitous person. Remember that thou art very troublesome to them; that they trouble not thee willingly; that they strive to do thee ease and benefit, that they wish it, and sigh and pray for it, and are glad if thou likest their attendance: that whatsoever is amiss, is thy disease, and the uneasiness of thy head or thy side, thy distemper or thy disaffections: and it will be an unhandsome injustice to be troublesome to them because thou art so to thyself; to make them feel a part of thy sorrows that thou mayest not bear them alone; evilly to requite their care by thy too curious and impatient wrangling and fretful spirit.

That tenderness is vicious and unnatural, that shrieks out under the weight of a gentle cataplasm; and he will ill comply with God’s rod, that cannot endure his friend’s greatest kindness; and he will be very angry (if he durst) with God’s smiting him, that is peevish with his servants that go about to ease him.

Jeremy Taylor, 1652 “The Rule and Exercise of Holy Dying” p. 187-188

Saffron Spring

The karkōm of the ancient Semites became karkum to the middle eastern arabic speakers. It would be adopted by the greeks as krokos, and sits, perhaps in your garden today as the groundbreaker of the end of winter – the Crocus!

Crocus

We know it as one of the early flowering plants in our region. But through history it has also given to it’s cultivators yellow dye and the aromatic Saffron, used both in perfume and cooking.

We forget that as the winter snows blanketed our lives, our God in His wisdom had the crocus primed to burst forth at the first sign of Spring, able to withstand the oscillations of temperature and endure even a freeze.

We find ourselves blanketed and suppressed by the challenge if viral infection. Our times are paralyzed with urgency. Our minds spin with the news cycle. All is not well.

And then a blossom appears. A phone call given or received. Something of beauty arrests our attention: A cardinal? A kind word? A new piece of music? An inspiration for creativity? What’s your beauty?

In this image – everything around the croci is dead. The dry brown of winter hangs on. But it bursts forth in it’s God-appointed way triumphant!

We who bear the life of Christ are not called to succumb to the ennui of the times. We rather are given eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to understand (Ezekiel 36:26). As we carry ourselves respectfully but joyfully in our days, we can be the aroma of Christ, the saffron of the cross.

Carry on, sisters and brothers. Christ is with you.

Steve

Harbinger

Happy Spring!!

Yes, today is the first day of Spring.

Brought to mind for me Jesus’ words, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” [John 12:24]

Feels like stuff is dying around us!  Not people so much, but a way of life, worship as we know it, our social fabric, the economy, and in some parts of the world – sadly – wonderful people made in the image of God.

There are things to grieve in the picture – none of the things lost are necessarily bad things – they are good things, suspended, if not outright gone.

Falling to earth and dying.

But Jesus’ point is that this is the path.  Through loss comes gain [Philippians 3:7], through death comes life [John 12:32].  This is the thesis of “The J-Curve” by Paul Miller.  That every little humbling of the self, every little sacrifice, is entering into in some way Jesus’ suffering and victory.

So, we don’t control our losses any more than a grain of wheat controls it’s life, seasons, and eventual return to the soil from which it sprang.

But (one of the great words in Scripture!), it is in that dying that there is rising, as it is enfolded in soil, kissed with moisture, and with the summoning of the Spring sun, infused with life to press upward from the ground to new life.

Happy Spring.  Redefine the deaths of the hour as a way to embrace the Savior even more deeply, and to know that he has all the Father has given him [John 6:37-39].  Losses are racking up on every front.  In them we are finding that which can not be reduced, not be tarnished, not be eviscerated – we are finding life.

I believe that hope prevails.  Join me.

Peace.  Steve

From Isaiah 61:10-11 [ESV]

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God,
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation;
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the earth brings forth its sprouts,
and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up,
so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
to sprout up before all the nations.

Crisis Conquest

Today I want to talk about stress. As a pastor and first responder, I get to live and think in unique nexus points of society and culture.

I teach our department’s Critical Incident Stress Management class (early stage of the spectrum that can end at PTSD), and there are some strategic pieces which might be helpful in the general context of our times.

What is it?
Critical Incident Stress (CIS) is a normal reaction to abnormal events. This is really important. We are not in normal times. Our normal ways of dealing with things don’t apply. For many, normal resources are out of reach. Social supports have vaporized. So let me say straight up: What you are feeling is normal. You are feeling it differently than everyone else – congratulations – you are not a clone! But whether you are non-plussed or freaked out – for you, you are responding in your normal to the abnormal around you. Own it. But it is time for it to not own you.

Why is this in play now?
Two major exacerbating factors of CIS are uncertainty and duration. We are being treated to both! And we can do little about either, which interjects a third factor: a sense of powerlessness. Again, a step to coping wholeness is to acknowledge the crisis and it’s stress.

What can I do!?
There are a host of things you can do to lower the impact and the long term grip of the tensions of these times for yourself and those around you. This is by no means exhaustive, but hopefully a start of constructive thinking and conversation.

First, routine. OK, so you can’t control the uncertainty. You CAN build some certainty in! Start with your sleep times. Maintain consistent bed times and wake times. This will tell your body norms it can use to respond with less intensity to stress. Same for meal structures.

Second, keep a morning routine. Eat usual breakfast stuff at usual breakfast times. Do you have a morning spiritual discipline or psychological refreshment habit? Keep it up!!! Get dressed! (Think about it: usually when you spend the day in your jammies you are what? Sick? What mindset does staying in your jammies put you in?) You are establishing your mindset for the day. Minimize or even eliminate media exposure in this hour.

Third, exercise. It literally burns off stress hormones. It refreshes your immune system. It is good for body and mind.

Fourth, journal. Granted that is a little out of the box, but hear me on this: Your mind wants to hold onto stuff, sort it out, categorize it, and fix it. It’s why you wake up with answers to problems in the middle of the night. Except when you can’t make sense of things let alone fix them. Then your mind just spins. It is distressing and exhausting. BUT, if you write it down – make it part of the end of your day – then your mind can let go. You see, you have “saved the file” for your mind. It knows it won’t get lost, because you wrote it down, and you can always go back to it. Archiving whatever you are experiencing and what you are feeling and thinking about it allows you mind to let go of it. This may take a couple days for the full benefit to kick in, but it does really help!

Fifth, visit your world view. How we view the world around us is something we don’t often take time to process. Do you have categories for good and bad? Blessing and tragedy? Action taking and powerlessness? As a Christian, I have categories for these things in my heart. I don’t like some of them, but I’m not left senseless or purposeless in the face of them. Perhaps you have held or rebelled at a world view inheritance from your youth. Find something that makes sense and perhaps has some historical rootedness. Nothing beats a good foundation.

Sixth, stay away from the destructive stuff. Yeah, the 24/7 news feeds are not your friends. Nor is the endless stream of the freaked out social media. Nor are the pot, porn, and booze anesthetics of our culture. They may dull the moment, but they do nothing to order the inner storm stirred in heart and mind by times like these. In fact, they distort the capacity to process CIS in healthy ways, and defer the reckoning with the inner world while allowing anxiety to metastasize.

Seventh, know your wiring. It is our nature to “tunnel-vision” and to lose perspective in times of stress. Things move out of proportion. People talk about time standing still or not seeing or hearing anything else but the crisis in front of them. It’s a God-given capacity to deal with an immediate thing, but it can spin out of control and distort our lives. Be it an emergency, work stress, current events or even a noble calling (ie. athletes “not hearing the crowd”), tunnel vision is the gift that can become the curse. It is a level of intensity that cannot be sustained. Note the other elements of this essay and keep your perspective and balance.

Eighth, keep good people near. Even if physical proximity is challenging – real time human connections are essential for our mental and spiritual health. You need to process feelings, and you need to care for others. It is part of what makes you human. Own your stuff and engage. This requires greater focus and effort if there are barriers imposed by distancing and vector concerns. Work for it – do it.

A final note – some readers are home with kids and the chaos seems to reign. Teach them the life-skills above and structure it into your day. Kids need structure – it is security to them. Want to minimize you kids’ trauma of a would spiraling apart? Regular bed times, regular meals, and regular activities will stabilize their inner world (including contributing to the housekeeping, chores, meal prep, etc.). And when you are feeling freaked out – good to not make them your confidant. They need you to be the strong one. Share your hard stuff with mature people who can carry it with you. Share your love with your kids!

Yes, this is a season of Critical Incident Stress. It doesn’t have to become more than that!

Steve Felker
Senior Pastor, Christ Chapel, Ithaca
Interior FF, Cayuga Heights Fire Dept

Breathe

March 17, 2020
Got to spend a few minutes yesterday patching the tire on my wife’s car. Yes, picked up a foreign object somewhere along the way. Sheetrock screw in this case.

Now, patching a tire is kind of counter intuitive. First, you’re not patching, you’re plugging. Replacing an object that is letting air out with one that will keep air in. You pull the object out, listen to what precious air is left come hissing by, prepare the hole, and glue the plug in. Simple, right!?

Pulling the offending object out is easy. Usually a pair of pliers will do it. A brute force kinda thing.

The next step is the one that’s a little odd. It’s called, “make the hole bigger.” You see, the plug is a known size, but the damaging object could be anything (and if too big, the tire can’t be repaired). But with the plug being uniform, the hole needs to be uniform.Tirepatch1

So you (rather savagely) have to drive this very coarse round file into the hole in the tire several times. Right, just ram a screwdriver like thing into your tire. Feel the steel belts slip by and hear the rubber almost crunch against the insult.

But then you have prepared the tire to be made whole. You coat the plug (a very tarred up piece of rope) with a generous amount of rubber cement, set it in a y-shaped tool, and drive the middle of it into the tire, leaving a quarter of it hanging out. And then you give it time, and then air the tire.Tirepatch2

We are in a season where the church, the culture, and even ourselves as individuals feel pierced. Everything is deflated and has ceased working. Assemblies are cancelled, offices are closed. Classes abruptly finished, neighbors and friends drifting out of contact.

And even then, it seems we have to drive things even deeper, make them worse before we can make them better. Withdraw. Quarantine. Step into disorienting spaces and disruptions to our routines.

“Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies….” [John 12:24]

In his last week (lost in the chaos of our days is the fact that the faithful are walking in this Lenten season) Jesus shared these words with his disciples. He reminded them (and us) that “in this world you will have trouble”. [John 16:33]

The reaming out of the heart and habit is the preparation for the infilling of the greater Breath of Life. Not easy, but good.

In this season of disruption, of the rasp of social anxiety, fear and confusion feeling like they are running raw through us, we have a hope that “does not perish, spoil or fade” [1 Peter 1:4].

As every convention of society and how we have “always done church” falls to the wayside, let the main thing be the main thing, even as we find ourselves preparing new wineskins to bring the new wine of Jesus to our days. [Matthew 9:17]

I leave you with this simple but profound exhortation: (click to play)
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.
– Helen Howarth Lemmel (1922)

Peace, my friends, in the high calling of love and grace. God has this!

Pastor Steve

Rise

It’s Thursday.  About 8:30 pm.  And how fast the news changes.  One moment, there are 5 folks in county under test for NCovid-19.  Now it’s 15.  What will it be by morning?

One hour, instructions for organizations and individuals leans one way, by the end of the day – it’s something else.

Powers that be are moving toward cultural shutdown.  And as a leader, with charge to exercise both faith and wisdom, I’m challenged to “make the call.”

We know the NCovid-19 is aggressive.  We know some folks are vulnerable.  But “abundance of caution” usually doesn’t run with faith nor love.

Across her history, the church has faced plagues and suffering.  While the elites run away (apparently jet-setters are flocking to their disaster bunkers even now…) it is the nature of love and faith to run to serve.

Can I encourage you?  For the faithful – we know how the story ends.  It is glorious.

That is an extraordinary freedom.  I know that all the most important things are in held in Heaven, and that no price on earth exceeds glory.

I have revisited Rodney Stark’s book of 13 years ago, “The Rise of Christianity”.  One of the key factors identified as crucial to the growth of the church is her faithfulness – even to death – to her community in the face of pandemic.  It was the sacrificial service of the faithful to the suffering and afraid that set them apart.  And it was a winsome witness to the love of Christ.

A pandemic is upon us.  I expect some areas will be hit harder than others.  I pray that the best efforts of civil leaders will be accompanied by the move of the Holy Spirit and that suffering and death will be minimal.  And most of all, keeping my eyes on Jesus, I will not fear, nor will I be afraid.

Join me?

Steve

 

Shift Your Weight

Arundhati Roy, on the internal debate about the Indian government’s war against indigenous peoples, the Maoists in their midst, and the corporations wanting access to the resources on indigenous lands:

“How do people who are starving go on a hunger strike? How do people who have no money boycott goods? How do people whose home is 4 days walk through the forest [show up to protest]? For non-violent resistance you need an audience. You need middle class sympathy. You need a middle class, basically…. It is immoral for people sitting in Delhi to tell a person whose village is being surrounded by a thousand security guards and burned and the women raped to be non-violent… Unless you are prepared to go and act in their defense.” (39:40)

Wow.

I hear the pathos within her words. But I remember that Jesus’ preaching of non-violence was not to the middle class, but the oppressed class. She goes on to say, “In these moments you can’t be pure about things. You have to shift your weight to protect those being crushed.”

Her lecture  has divergent perspectives to the Christian faith, its worldviews, sustainability, and the nature of true peace. But it is important to hear what is happening in other parts of the world, and to have someone hold up a mirror, however imperfect it is, to our own values.

Our own culture has a dissolving middle class – who will be the audience of the cries of the poor in the future?
Our own culture oppresses, and our country too often sides with the profitable versus ethical in other parts of the world. Have we a voice?

We, as a people, really do have much. I know there is much debate in our culture as to what role government should play in domestic poverty and its trubitaries, but there is no question as to what role Christians play in the realities of need:
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter– when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. “If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.” (Isaiah 58:6-10)

Is there an area where you are being called to “shift your weight to protect those being crushed”?

referent:

http://castroller.com/podcasts/Alternativeradio/3947664

In the Cold Mid Winter

Nothing like firefighting in the cold….
IMG_20140305_113326

 

 Multi alarm fire at a cement plant.

Lots and lots of water as they lost equipment and their mechanics building.  And we gained a good coating of ice on the helmet and airpack, and frozen pack straps just to make getting it off interesting.

Makes me think of “religion” as compared to the lively faith that Jesus bequeathed to us.  We can layer religion and Bible verses on until they generate layers of ice that stiffen, deaden and exhaust.

BUT! add the fire of the Holy Spirit and the ice of religious deadness melts into the rivers of living water that Jesus promised.

Talk to anyone raised in the church, and many will have a story of the time when they thought “religion” was it, and it was lifeless.  Then they met the Jesus to whom all the religion was pointing toward and things came alive!

It was a different set of ashes this Ash Wednesday.  But it has been a time for me to remember that the ashes of Lent are to give way to the fire of Pentecost!

May the fire warm you these forty days of Lent.

Steve

ransomnoteHad a great conversation today (thanks, Chris!), and an aside in the midst of it is how often Biblical texts are “prooftexted” in a sequence well outside of their author’s original intent. It’s like they are letters cut out and pasted to say something they never intended.

Of course, there are humorous versions:
Husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies (Eph 5:28), I beat my body and bring it into submission (1 Cor. 9:27)

Judas went away and hung himself (Matthew 27:5) Go and do likewise (Luke 10:37).

Too often I hear of “teachers” kidnaping the faith, stringing texts together with a lack of insight, compassion, and proportion as they walk their hearers down the garden trail into at best heresy, and at worst personal destruction.

How do we guard against this? Is this the arena of the pros only, and the rest should abandon the quest for Biblical understanding?

A few thoughts
1. Is the teacher taking the time to place the texts in their contexts? Is the text being expanded, or is it just a stepping stone in a fast moving montage? Are you being given time to fully consider the text you are being asked to receive in an authoritative manner?

2. Is the teacher reputable? Does the life bear the fruit of the gospel. I was delighted to overhear the conversation Sunday about an author and a book the two recently read, “he says some good things, but you know – he left his wife to go marry some young thing.” “Really! That makes me re-think about some of his ideas….” By their fruit you will know them.

3. Is this in proportion. This is one of the mistakes of most of the cults. To grab a few texts, string them together, pronounce what would be a very minor doctrine, and blow it up to a major initiative to be fought over (giving the cult an identity). Baptism for the dead is an example. The Mormons have taken 1 Cor 15:29 (which might be better “wash the dead” instead of “baptizing for the dead”) and build a major doctrine around an obscure text. Hence their interest in genealogy – find you dead family, and assist their eternal journey by being baptized for them. Makes for great genealogical resources, and utterly horrible theology – beginning with the fact that water baptism doesn’t save you!

4. Is this in line with the historic stance of the church – both in content and proportion. Why do we act as if there were no spirit-filled people in the last 2000 years of the church? Should we not mine the legacy of insight and understanding they have left for us?

5. Does this square with what I know of the Bible? In this, I am making the assumption that you are reading and meditation on the rich and diverse contents of your Bible. The best defense to the extortion of false teaching is a good offense of personal devotion and healthy church life.

Do not be deceived my brothers and sisters….. (James 1:16)

Steve

Richard Stearns, President of World Vision has been in town. I’m not sure the poor have a greater friend this side of heaven. His books The Hole in Our Gospel and Unfinished are compelling.

As a guest of the Dyson School of Economics at Cornell co-sponsored by Chesterton House, he spoke on campus last night. When an observation was floated in the Q&A about how much poverty is “man-driven”, caused by anarchy, corruption, violence, and / or failed states, he coined an excellent frame of reference: benign poverty, and malignant poverty.

Benign poverty is that which is driven by drought, disease, individual behavioral choices, lack of economic opportunity, and aspects of circumstance. Earlier in his lecture he spoke of the “software set” between the ears, which needs to be reset to sustain people lifted out of poverty.

Malignant poverty is another question. The tyrants, despots, oligarchs, and warlords grind the people to their own ends.

So I have been reflecting.

We can answer benign poverty with manpower and resources. It is being done well at home and abroad.  How shall we pray and serve in the face of malignant poverty?

Stearns noted that World Vision is in the malignant zones, as those often are the poorest of the poor. They are not in a position to be change agents of those situations. And still, a staffer may give their life for the poor in those front lines of service. It happens every year.

So it makes me wonder. Who are those positioned to be change agents to the systems of malignant poverty? Seems to me this may be the domain of governments and business. And by extension, the citizens of free societies everywhere. Did anyone else notice how quickly the UN-HCR Report on North Korea disappeared from the news cycle?

But let us not dismiss ourselves too quickly….
It is our God who holds the nations in His hand.
How diligent are we to pray for the divine judgment of the perpetrators of malignant poverty and the peaceful liberation of their victims?

Until those structures are dismantled, the job is indeed Unfinished.

Referents:
the lecture

The books:
The Hole in Our Gospel

Unfinished

United Nations Human Rights Commission report and summary regarding North Korea are here: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/CoIDPRK/Pages/ReportoftheCommissionofInquiryDPRK.aspx