Alaska Trail

Praise the Lord from the earth, you great sea creatures and all ocean depths, lightning and hail, snow and clouds, stormy winds that do his bidding, you mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars, wild animals and all cattle, small creatures and flying birds, kings of the earth and all nations, you princes and all rulers on earth, young men and women, old men and children.
Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his splendor is above the earth and the heavens.    Psalm 148:7-13  

Carol and I just returned home from a road trip to Alaska. It was the longest drive of our lives. The journey took 24 days. We traveled 8,857 miles through 10 states and provinces. The adventure also included six stops at Honda Service Centers in Whitehorse YT, Anchorage, AK (twice); Prince George, BC; and Fargo, ND (twice).

Driving the Alaska Highway in 2018 has some eerie similarities to pioneer travel on the Oregon Trail in the 1840s. Correct packing is crucial. It’s hard to pare down to absolute necessities. For our Alaska trip, Carol and I worked hard to reduce the load. We made a few decisions which turned out to be very helpful – such as not taking a hitch rack– and a few poor ones, too. We took too much stuff to easily convert the cargo area into a bed each night. It took a lot of shuffling to set up and tear down.

I’ve always had a problem with taking too much stuff. That weakness was exposed on this trip. I was ready to start throwing away things in frustration by the third day of our journey. I remembered how the Oregon Trail was littered with valuable, but expend­able, items tossed out by the pioneers–jewelry, mirrors, furniture, china plates and cedar chests. They packed too much stuff, too.

More than 200 years after Lewis and Clark, the roads are still rough and the hills are still steep. Our little Honda CR-V struggled mightily to make the journey. I’m really glad we didn’t take the cargo hitch. It would have added more weight and made it cumbersome to open the tailgate.

Most of our travel was north of the Oregon Trail, but the view is breathtakingly beautiful. Much of the Alaska Highway runs along towering snow-capped mountain peaks or deep green valleys. Often the road follows the path of a stream. It’s amazing that such a beautiful landscape is so sparsely populated. Perhaps seven-month long winters have something to do with that.

The wildlife we observed included many black bears, grizzly bears, bison, moose, sand cranes, red fox, silver fox, coyotes, elk, antelope, caribou, white-tailed deer, mule deer, bald eagles, dall sheep, stone sheep, porcupines, trumpeter swans, peregrine falcons, loons, pelicans, prairie dogs and a wild horse. It was like visiting a zoo, except that we were in the cage and the critters were roaming free.

The Psalmist calls for all creation, even mountains and the wild animals, to offer praise to the Lord. Perhaps the poetic personification suggest even inanimate objects reflect the glory of God and thus give him praise. Or perhaps it means that whenever we see such beautiful mountains and wild animals, we should immediately think of the God who created such wonder and give him praise.

It’s easy to praise God on the Alaska Highway. His glory is visible at every milepost. It’s also easy to praise God on the Minnesota prairie. God’s divine handiwork is evident in Clarkfield, too. Perhaps the prairie is a wondrous sight to those who live in the mountains and see only hills each day in every direction.

 

 

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Words of Power vs. the Power of Words

When Joseph saw his father placing his right hand on Ephraim’s head he was displeased; so he took hold of his father’s hand to move it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head. Joseph said to him, “No, my father, this one is the firstborn; put your right hand on his head.” But his father refused and said, “I know, my son, I know. He too will become a people, and he too will become great. Nevertheless, his younger brother will be greater than he, and his descendants will become a group of nations.” Genesis 48:17-19

The #MeToo movement is creating a power shift in our society and in the church. Perhaps not everyone is aware of it yet, but the rules of engagement are changing. Abuse is no longer being swept under the rug. Public figures are resigning all over the map because of pressure from the new dynamic. Just in Minnesota, Garrison Keillor and Al Franken have been caught in the backwash. Recently both men were forced to depart their prominent positions after old sex scandals were revealed. Church leaders are not exempt. Well-known pastors and para-ministry leaders also have been forced out of their ministries because of perceived sexual assaults (real or otherwise).

At first glance, sexual assault seems to be about sex. But at a deeper level, assault has little to do with sex at all. Rather, it’s primarily about power. Woe to the leader who doesn’t properly distinguish between sex and power!

Three weeks ago Greg Christy, president of conserva­tive Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa, was forced to apologize profusely after writing the following in a reflec­tion piece he had written about the school: “Pornography, premarital sex, adultery, sexual assault, the objectification of women, and same-sex activity all exemplify the brokenness of sexual desire and expression.”

Did you catch what’s wrong with that sentence? I didn’t either. But Christy caught an earful for writing it.

As it turns out, many people were angry that the col­lege president categorized sexual assault in a list of sexual sins. One graduate of the college responded: “Sexual assault and the objectification of women have nothing to do with sexual desire or expres­sion — they are about exerting power and control.”

A current student was concerned how Christy linked homosexuality and sexual assault. He responded, ““As president, he should be held to a high standard. Making careless and unnecessary statements like the one he did concerning homosexuality and sexual assault falls incredibly far below that standard.”

In response, President Christy removed the two words “sexual assault” from the article and sent clarifications to the people who had contacted him. His blurring of sex and power had resulted in a firestorm of controversy in what he had intended as pastoral remarks expressing a faithful Christian witness to a lost world.

“I’m sorry and regretful that those words have caused hurt to people,” Christy wrote.

Words have power when they come from an authority figure and lead to destruction, such as sexual assault. But the power of words also can bring healing, especially when they come from an authority figure, such as a father.

This Sunday at New Life Church, we’ll celebrate Father’s Day with powerful words of blessing from a father to a son. We’ll recount the amazing story of Jacob’s double blessing to his son Joseph which is recorded in Genesis 48. If you’re in the Clarkfield area, you’re invited to join us this weekend.

 

The Limits of Altruism

Hold on to instruction, do not let it go; guard it well, for it is your life. Proverbs 4:13

I’m not a particularly strong disciplinarian in the classroom. I can tune out misbehavior and deal with it only when it becomes a major disruption. At the same time, I have little sympathy for students who push me to my limit.

When the local charter school asked me to teach music in an emergency situation a year and a half ago, I didn’t know much about student discipline. (Still don’t, really.) To me, music is its own reward. I couldn’t figure out why anyone wouldn‘t want to work hard in class. (Still can’t, really.) We do our work simply because it’s the right thing to do. We don’t need a reward for it. That’s called altruism, which apparently is a foreign concept to children.

Naturally, the students tested me. I soon realized I needed a disciplinary plan. School policy discouraged using negative consequences such as paddling or taking away recess. That left only positive consequences. Several other teachers teachers told me about their reward systems of discipline with charts or marbles or traffic lights or other visual means of reinforcing good behavior. One teacher in particular talked about the need for a goal for students to work toward, such as a pizza party.

To be honest, the whole idea of rewards just didn’t connect with me. (Still doesn’t, really. After all, work is its own reward.) I did stumble on a reward system by promising them fun (the concert) if they did their work (strong rehearsals). But that’s still not enough for elementary students. So they tested me again this year. One of the teachers helped me compile extra “homework” for students who disrupted class. It helped me recognize that I needed to state the rules which were obvious to me, but apparently not to them. I made three class rules: 1) Walk into the classroom quietly and take your [proper] seat [properly]. 2) Don’t disrupt the class [talking, distracting other students, etc.] and 3) make a reasonable effort to the the work [basically that meant trying to sing or do an activity].

It wasn’t much of a discipline plan. Experts could poke holes all through it. Before that my only plan had been 1) demonstrate competence, which hopefully would gain students’ attention and 2) always be totally prepared, which would keep students from wasting time and getting bored. Naturally, it didn’t work. Of course, competence is better than incompetence and total preparation is better than winging it. But most elementary children can’t tell the difference. So it doesn’t impact classroom behavior much at that level.

Today the teacher became a student when he took his three oldest grandchildren, ages 10, 8, and 6, to the school gym so they could do physical activity on a rainy day. I turned them loose and expected them to play hard, have fun, and get along with one another – all without saying a word to them about it.

It worked OK for about four minutes. Then child #3 began to cry profusely because her two older brothers wouldn’t play with her the way she wanted. After about 10 minutes, she finally settled down. Then child #2 became unglued when the others didn’t play the way he wanted. His meltdowns are tricky because he has autism, which present a genuine challenge for a right parental response. Sometimes he needs to be reeled in. Other times he needs more line. I decided to reel him in. Finally, he calmed down. But nobody wanted to play anymore.They just wanted to go home.

Then I had an impromptu thought: What about a reward? I told them if they could play together well for 15 minutes and then put away the toys with full cooperation and participation, we would stop for ice cream on the way home. There could be no fighting, no meltdowns, no tantrums, and no pouting.

What happened next was almost astounding. They immediately became engaged with playing together. They had genuine fun and got along fine. They even made up new games. I just sat and watched. I called out the minutes. With only one minute left, the oldest child made a mistake. He threw a squishy ball at his sister and bounced it off her head. She wasn’t hurt, but she was mad. She started to cry. I told her to pull it together. Her brother apologized quickly. (It didn’t help in this case.) She badly wanted to have a tantrum. She quivered and sniffled and sobbed. She barely hung on – for a minute, which was all she needed.

They picked up the toys properly and put them away perfectly. Child #3 was still feeling needy and clung to me as we left the building. But there had been no outbursts. No fighting. No pouting. They climbed into the car without incident. They (barely) had been able to exert self control for 20 minutes – motivated by a reward.

I guess altruism has its limits. We all enjoyed the ice cream.

 

I Was Wrong (Again)

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance:
Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—
of whom I am the worst. 1 Timothy 1:15

Like thousands of other pastors and ministry leaders, I’ve been following the media-saturated, slow-motion drama at Willow Creek Church near Chicago. The church known for presenting drama on its stage has itself become a stage for a drama to the world. The short story is that former senior pastor Bill Hybels has been accused of sexual misconduct, which he has denied. The church has been accused of mishandling the accusations. After Hybels resigned in April, I opined in this blog that the church would shift into silent mode and handle the matter privately.

As it turns out, I was wrong, wrong, wrong.  If my predictions about the future were applied to the standard of biblical prophecy, I’d be in heap big trouble. Stones would be flying in my direction. I wouldn’t have to worry about buying a cemetery plot. Thankfully, I’m neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet. Various accusers have continued to make public statements about Hybels and Willow Creek. Some of it is new information. Third-party critics have piled on. The church has retracted previous statements, apologized for missteps, and asserted new corrections. Hybels himself issued a limited apology, but has mostly remained silent. Analysis of the situation varies widely, depending on which website you’re perusing. The scandal has escalated into a conflict. Two websites have been particularly helpful to me in navigating the minefield.

Dr. Jim Meyer wrote in his blog:

Having been a pastor for thirty-six years, I know how difficult it is for people inside a church to confront their pastor about wrongdoing.  I could probably count on two hands the number of people that came to me personally over the years, so they stand out in my mind … and I’m probably a gentler person than Hybels.

When he denied any wrongdoing, it’s hard for me to believe that Hybels couldn’t recall those confrontations … especially since both women could have escalated matters by approaching Willow’s elders instead.

Conflicts in churches could be avoided and resolved if people would just address matters as they occur … and that’s certainly what Jesus taught in Matthew 5:23-26, and what Paul taught in Ephesians 4:26-27.

The Bible doesn’t give us a specific statute of limitations on confronting those who may have harmed us, but to go back twenty years to complain about a comment the pastor made seems vengeful to me.

There are two surefire ways to destroy a relationship: make a long list of someone’s offenses and recite it back to them … and mention offenses they may have committed that go back many years.

This is the way the world works.  This isn’t supposed to be the way the church works.

I just wonder who is influencing whom.

Meyer’s blog is posted here: Four Questions About the Willow Creek Train Wreck

The second helpful website is an anonymous blogger who uses the pseudonym “nanapush.” This person wrote:

It is one thing to call for broad investigations but another to come to terms with a comprehensive investigation: all people making allegations should be assessed for motive and reliability; all people making allegations should be asked to provide evidence; all allegations should be rigorously assessed, interpreted, and cross-checked….

Willow Creek Church can be easily destroyed by people denouncing others with a zeal that can, despite the best of intentions, make justice ever elusive, innocence a casualty of a righteous certainty that eschews thoughtful action and lasting reform in favor of virtue signalling and tenuous solidarity.

The challenge for WCC is to understand dysfunction at the level of the individual, the cultural, and the institutional. Singling out individuals, however powerful they may be, can at best lead to dismissals, lawsuits, and public shaming, but unless the institutional culture in which such actions occurred is examined, substantive change and reform will remain elusive.

Nanapush is posted here: https://nanapush.wordpress.com/2018/04/22/darkness-at-noon-willow-creek-church/

The train wreck at Willow Creek is not an isolated case. This is a seismic cultural shift within the evangelical church. Earlier this year, Dr. Paul Nyquist was forced out as president at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago by a media-saturated campaign against him. The latest media frenzy concerns Dr. Paige Patterson, former president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. He was unceremoniously fired earlier this week following numerous allegations of mishandling sex abuse situations and creating a toxic culture of power. Like Hybels, Patterson denied the basic charges. The scandal has degenerated into open warfare with media attacks and counterattacks from accusers and supporters alike. This conflict has enveloped the entire Southern Baptist Convention because of related theological disagreements. The SBC discord appears to be much more vicious than Willow Creek’s conflict, which is almost tame in comparison.

This is a tragic situation. Yesterday Al Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, tweeted: “My heart has been broken for my beloved Southern Baptist Convention in recent weeks, days, hours. Never more than in last few hours. WE are broken down, indeed. I pray for God to rescue us, and all those we are called to rescue.”

Everybody has dirty laundry. In the past, we used to wash our underwear in private, especially if it was soiled in private. If it was a public sin, we confessed it publicly. Jim Meyer tells a story in his blog about how a woman approached him to confess being angry at him for years for not returning her romantic love. The problem was he never knew she was angry at him. He later wished she hadn’t said anything. He believes it would have been better if she had confessed her private sin in private and left him out of it.

Right now evangelicals are waving their dirty underwear alongside the information super-highway for the world to watch – and mock. The #MeToo movement has overtaken male-dominated conservative churches like a tsunami. What we used to handle in private has become public fodder. We do need to clean up our house. Where the church has tolerated abuse in the past, we must stop. But I’m not sure it will be helpful in the long run to do our house cleaning on social media. We have given opportunity for the enemies of God to blaspheme. They are chiming in gleefully.

It’s not a scandal that we have dirty laundry. That’s a necessary consequence of a church which is led by sinners. The scandal is that we’re scandalized by our own sin. Do we think we are no longer sinners?

If we shouldn’t clean our house in public, why am I posting here? It’s simple. Public sin, public confession.

Yep, I was wrong. The Willow Creek scandal will continue to play out in the public eye. There may no longer be such a thing as a private or confidential matter in the age of social media. This wave does not feel like a passing fad. It feels like a power shift. The rules of public ministry appear to be changing.

The church may never be the same. Long ago I was taught that the state (civil government) is God’s agent for law and punishment. I was taught that the church is God’s agent for grace and redemption. Now it appears that the church is becoming an agent of law and punishment. Who will be left to minister grace and redemption to those are broken in the aftermath?

Comfort Food: Revelation 21:1-4

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4 NIV)

The passage of Scripture I have read most often in the three weeks since my mother’s death is Revelation 21:1-4. It portrays the Apostle John’s vision of the new heaven and the new earth. The description is stunning. It’s beyond comprehension. How can a water cycle work if there is no longer any sea? If there is no sea, there is likely no rain as well. Apparently the water cycle is part of “the old order of things” which has passed away. I see beautiful symmetry here to the paradise described in Genesis 2:5-6, where rain had not yet fallen and the earth was nurtured by ground water. In John’s vision the curse of the fall has been reversed. Tears have been resolved and death has been removed. Only the presence of the Lord himself is better than that. What a promise!

This passage is comfort food to me. It’s also an enigma. Two days before my mother died, her pastor came to visit her at the hospice house. The family was all gathered around mom’s bed. Mom wasn’t really awake. The pastor asked if we had any Scripture requests. I quickly listed three or four passages, from which the pastor selected Revelation 21:1-4.

As she began to read, I settled back and closed my eyes, waiting for the familiar words. But the pastor was reading from a different version of the Bible and the words I heard were not familiar: And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them;” (Revelation 21:3 NRSV)

Suddenly my eyes flew open and my head jerked up. Wait a minute! “They will be his peoples”? Plural? It can’t be! God has only one people. I didn’t like what I had just heard. I suspected textual abuse grounded in a liberal agenda. I was distracted and agitated internally, although I didn’t say anything or indicate an objection. I was able to escape to the genuine comfort in the passage, but there was now a burr under my saddle which I needed to resolve.

The first thing I had to address was my bias. The text says what it says and it means what it means. Authorial intent has nothing whatsoever to do with what I want the verse to say or want it to mean. Good Bible study is a systematic search for revealed truth, not a recitation of preconceived conclusions. Faulty Bible study leads to faulty conclusions. I run into a lot of bad theology by people who are sincere, but sloppy in their Bible study. In short, motives matter. And methods matter, too.

The following week when I returned home, I opened my Greek New Testament to Revelation 21. I’m not a Greek expert by any means, but I was well trained in seminary decades ago. I know what to look for. And what I found surprised me. Two things, actually.

First, there’s a pesky textual variant here. In some manuscripts the word “people” is singular. In other manuscripts, the word is plural, which would be literally translated “peoples.” The publisher’s notes in my Greek text indicate this variant has a high degree of doubt about which reading is correct. I would have to do textual criticism to determine the correct word. But for me it’s been too long. I’m going to have to rely on the scholarship of others. A textual variant with a highly uncertain conclusion tells me that other people long ago struggled with the same question I had. When they heard the “wrong” reading, their heads jerked up, too. And somewhere a scribe changed the text along the way, intentionally or not, knowingly or not. Then others made copies. That’s why there’s a variant reading in some manuscripts. My first surprise was finding an unexpected textual variant. We don’t know for sure which reading is the original. I’m going to lean on the scholars who assembled the critical text of the Greek New Testament.

My second surprise was that the editors of the Greek New Testament ultimately chose the plural word for “people.” In fact, both the received Greek text and the critical Greek text use the plural (laoi), not the singular (laos). Surprise! There is, at a minimum, a grammatical argument for translating the passage, “they will be his peoples” if the plural reading of variant is correct.

But a grammatical argument is not enough. For starters, “people” is a tricky concept to distinguish between singular and plural. In the singular, it means the populace in general or a particular nation or ethnic group. The plural form of the word occurs only four times in the New Testament (Acts 4:25, Romans 15:11, Revelation 17:15 and Revelation 21:3) and generally refers to the nations or the peoples of the world. But it’s not always translated “peoples.” In fact, all the major English Bible translations (except the NRSV) translate the plural “laoi” as a singular “people” in Revelation 21:3.

The people of God is a thematic thread which runs throughout the Bible. In the Old Covenant, Israel was the people of God. In the New Covenant, the church is the people of God. Perhaps, together they might be the “peoples” of God in Revelation 21:3. Yet in a very real sense, God has only one people, those whom he has redeemed in Christ. The plural in Revelation 21:3 might refer to their origin in the nations of the world. But the support for that is speculative. Or it might refer to the nations turning to Christ at the end of time. When the nations turn to Christ, they will become his singular people regardless of their ethnicity.

In conclusion, I jerked my head up that day partly because of surprise and partly because of ignorance. I strongly affirm the standard translation “they will be his people” in Revelation 21:3. There’s room for genuine debate. The text does allow the possibility of the NRSV translation “they will be his peoples.” Yet the collective Scriptures are clear that God will assemble a singular people who belong to him from among the nations. It will be out of this world.

For a grieving heart, that’s comfort food.

Four Details for Dying Well

As we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we need a big-picture perspective. Yesterday dad told me he was unable to make decisions about mom’s funeral service. He asked the family to handle the details. I told him that was fine. He needed to be doing only two things: 1) process his emotions and 2) process his faith – in whom he was trusting. That’s the big picture.

Nevertheless, when we die our loved ones will be busy. Since my mother’s death Monday night, I’ve recognized four simple tasks we can do before we die which will help our family when we’re gone. My mother did some of them. Others she did not.

  1. Get a will. This is the single most important detail for dying well. If you die without a will, your family will have to do a lot more work to settle your estate. It will be messier and cost them more money. You need a will whether or not you are wealthy. If you don’t have a will, get one now. If you can’t afford a lawyer, find a friend with a computer and buy inexpensive software to write your will. It won’t cost much and it won’t take long. It won’t matter to you, but it will matter to your family. Copies don’t count. It must be an original. Mom had a will and she had told us exactly where she kept the original document. Thanks, Mom!
  2. Complete a planning book. The funeral director will want immediate information, beginning with vital statistics. You might know a lot of the data from memory, but don’t trust your memory. It’s amazing how much we “know” that isn’t true. This information is going to become the official record. Get it right. Mom had a planning book. It wasn’t completely filled out, but it really helped. It was the primary source for writing her obituary. Mom included some of her wishes regarding her funeral. The main problem was that we didn’t know where it was. My sisters looked for an hour or two before they found it. I don’t know what we would have done without it. Get a funeral planning book and fill it out. You can get one online or from a funeral director. Fill it out and tell your family where it is. Mom also kept an up-to-date address book, so we were able to contact distant relatives and old friends. A few numbers didn’t work, but it was a helpful resource. Thanks, Mom!
  3. Collect the photos. Most funerals now include a display of pictures. If you don’t create a photo collection for your funeral, your family will have to do it at the worst possible time. This was something Mom didn’t do, even though she once had a ton of pictures. Actually, she made it worse a few years ago by giving each of us a photo album of our childhood. Mom didn’t have those photos afterward. Naturally, we didn’t have them with us when we rushed to her bedside. Therefore, we didn’t have many family pictures when we needed them for her funeral. When we were collecting pictures, twenty years were largely missing from mom’s parenting years. We managed to patch something together, but there was more stress than necessary. Collect your photos. Tell your family where they are. Even better, get digital copies.
  4. Keep some cash. When you die, all your financial accounts will be frozen immediately. It will take a minimum of two or three days for the paperwork to reactivate your accounts. But your family will need money. In our case, dad went to the bank and withdrew money only hours before mom died. That helped with immediate expenses like meals at a restaurant. He couldn’t even use his credit card. That’s why he needed cash. Funeral expenses are yet to be paid, but dad has set aside savings for that. To die well, don’t leave your family with the expense of your funeral. It may cost them more than you expect. Save long-term for the funeral. Keep some short-term cash.

When the pastor arrived to plan the funeral service, Dad stepped up to the plate despite his grief. He joined the meeting and contributed to the discussion. I think it was a helpful experience. I give him credit for courage and courtesy. He had asked to be excused, but when the time came, he stepped up with grace. It was a good family moment.

Death

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. (Philippians 1:21)

Mom died just a few minutes before midnight last night. She has completed her sojourn. She now walks by sight, not by faith. It is well with her soul.

The doctor was right yesterday morning. It did turn out to be mom’s special day. About 4 p.m. Carol and I were alone with her when Carol noticed that she seemed to be awake. These moments would last only a few seconds, so Carol quickly suggested that I read Scripture and pray with her again. I read Joshua 24:15 and reminded mom about her plaque with that verse. She nodded weakly. I told mom that for her, that verse was more than a plaque, it was a proclamation. It was a promise mom kept.

Back on Saturday when we arrived at her hospice room, I told mom she had lived her life well and had two remaining tasks. The first was to meet her eighth great-grandchild, James Walter Clevenger. She performed that assignment admirably to our joy and delight. I might add that James played his role perfectly, as well. Mom’s second task was to blaze the trail of faith to the end of life and model for her family how to die well. Usually that task is given to dads. Husbands die first in a majority of marriages. But in this marriage, that responsibility was given to mom. She was doing her final task very well.

After Scripture and prayer yesterday afternoon, mom was still awake. So I took the opportunity to tell her we thought she still had some time left. Carol and I might return to Minnesota. I told her that dad, Pam and Brenda would take good care of her. Would it be OK if Carol and I returned to Minnesota?

Mom croaked, “Yes!” in a loud, clear, deep tone that sounded almost like her normal voice. She was giving me mother’s permission for the final time. Perhaps she was also giving herself permission to die.

Within a few minutes, her condition deteriorated significantly. Her breathing became much more shallow and irregular. At 4:30 p.m. we called in the rest of the family, sang hymns for mom, and watched as death crept nearer. Dad sat silently and held mom’s hand. We all had one question, “How long?” Pam and Warren were sitting attentively with mom when she quietly passed into the Lord’s presence.

Barbara Bush, one of the world’s most prominent women, recently died. She is reported to have been a great woman of faith who loved Jesus and anticipated heaven. I marvel that the transcendent God who directs with the flick of his finger the course of the universe – or multiverse, if you prefer – would stoop in his imminence to notice Barbara Bush. I marvel even more that this same God embraced an obscure, unknown, elderly woman lying unnoticed by the world in a hospice bed and carried her into his presence. More astounding yet is that this same heavenly Father offers the same invitation to anyone who will respond to him in faith. If God’s transcendent power is unspeakable, his unmatched imminent grace can only be called “amazing.” The superlatives of language have been exhausted before they plumb the depths of God’s divine attributes. No wonder the great Apostle John concluded his book of the Revelation with, “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus.”

      And Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight,
     The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
     The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
     Even so, it is well with my soul.
                                                 Horatio G. Spafford, 1873