February 23, 2015

God's Presence, Our Peace - Thoughts on Sending Luke to the World

I have his senior portrait resting on the wall in the room where I pray.

He stares at me with his piercing blues. Kimberly captured his image, a moment of stillness. It was a rare moment. Luke is never still, never quiet.

If he walked in the door today, he’d be bringing in dirt and pursing his lips, forcing his windpipe to imitate the sound of a trumpet. And, if he happened to have a duck call hanging around his neck, this momma would need an extra measure of patience. Luke was the boy who lived here, who entered our house in whirlwind and cloud for days and years before he left on his journey around the world. I’m certain the same boy will not walk back in quite the same way.

At 5:30 in the morning, his text came in on the phone, “I made it!”

He left the second week of February to climb to the “rooftop of Africa,” the mountain called Kilimanjaro. He’s halfway through an eight month gap year between high school and college that has including living in an urban city in the United States, working clearing brush in the Bahamas, and living and working in Kigali, Rwanda.

A few weeks ago, he wasn’t sure he’d make it up the mountain. The bravado with which he had talked of his adventure when he was leaving for Rwanda in January had given way to pessimism. Weeks of little exercise and little protein left him wondering if he was up for the challenge. Maybe he was realizing he didn’t really know what he was getting into and wouldn’t until he got there? Uncertainty was certain. Lower expectations seemed the more noble choice.

What could we say as parents except to put one foot in front of the other? Isn’t that how you get anywhere?

I watch the news and I think about my boy. The world is angry...boiling.

The only angry thing I see outside my window is the wind. The sun is shining and the sky is blue. If my boy was here, his room would be dirty, but he’d be safe.

He’s our boy, and I suppose, we could buy a ticket, bring him home, give into fear and not let him go on to Jordan, to Israel or Palestine. He could skip the experience of being in the Philippines, a place like Jordan, highlighted in red on a map on the news.

We could bring him home, limit his exposure, and pretend to have some control. We won’t, because boys like him will likely have to fight those men in the masks who are bringing terror to the world and threatening “the people of the cross.” Boys will hold guns and make hard choices and they will live with the pain for the rest of their lives.

Luke will go to Jordan and meet an Islamic man who is not a terrorist. He will realize that the man is flesh and blood. He will extend his friendship and not defend his faith, but he will live it out. He will go as a Christian, an ambassador of Christ, gracious and loving. He will have the opportunity to be light as darkness falls in the world. Oh, that he will shine.

A mother prays many things for her children, but maybe the first prayer should be that our children understand that God is everywhere----everywhere. He is not sleeping in the boat in the middle of a storm. We don’t have to awaken him to the storms raging in the world. Peace has come to all who look to Him, who see Him raised up, the Victor over sin and death, seated on the throne.

If God is present at every point in space, if we cannot go where He is not, cannot even conceive of a place where He is not, why then has not that Presence become the one universally celebrated fact of the world? The patriarch Jacob, "in the waste howling wilderness," gave the answer to that question. He saw a vision of God and cried out in wonder, "Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not." Jacob had never been for one small division of a moment outside the circle of that all-pervading Presence. But he knew it not. That was his trouble, and it is ours. Men do not know that God is here. What a difference it would make if they knew. 
(A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God, Starbooks Classics Publishing)     

The letter to the Hebrews came to a people who needed to be reminded of who Jesus was. The “New” had come, but the “Old” was very much on their minds when they received the exhortations concerning Jesus. 

Jesus is better:

• He is better than the angels (1:4).
• He is better than Moses (3:3).
• He offers a better way of living out authentic faith (6:9).
• He holds out a better hope (7:19).
• He is the author of a better covenant (7:22).
• He is a better mediator (8:6).
• He makes better promises (8:6).
• He is a better sacrifice (9:23).
• He offers better and lasting possessions (10:34).
• He offers a better country—a heavenly one (11:16).
• He promises a better reward (11:26).
• He provides a better resurrection (11:35).
(source, Nancy Guthrie, Hoping for Something Better, Tyndale House 2007)

Those who received the great sermon in the book of Hebrews didn’t have the New Testament to open on their laps or their laptops. The Old Covenant was their heritage and they wondered if it was their hope. It was their hope, but it was more. The promises of the Old Covenant were fulfilled in Jesus Christ. The reassurance the Hebrew believers received is our reassurance centuries later in this world of troubles.

Some of us who have called upon the name of Jesus may be wondering if what held us in the past can hold us this present time. The days are evil and darkness seems to be overtaking the world. It would seem the peace is shattered. 

What if the things that don't bring peace are what are being shattered? The darkness is coming to the Light, but the darkness will not overwhelm it. Darkness deepens right before the dawn. We wait for the Light to rise in the darkness. He will come. He has promised.

We find strength in the great statement of faith made by the Apostle Peter:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1Peter 1:3-9)

We live by faith in what we believe not what we see.

A day before Luke was scheduled to summit Kilimanjaro, we sleuthed a little on the Internet and found a live cam of the giant mountain. Clouds crowned the top, billowing up as if they might be dishing out lightning bolts. We read the weather report and saw the snow totals up on the summit for the night of the final climb. The inches on the report added up to feet. We were skeptical since had no first hand knowledge of what was actually happening. What weatherman ever gets the snow forecast right?

On summit night, Jeff and I prayed for our boy and the others with him, not knowing if he was still climbing. We prayed in faith believing he was there. I sensed that he was---the knowing, unexplainable but real.

Later we found out the forecast we had seen was right, and Luke and his group summitted the mountain in the middle of the night in a blizzard that left the mountain in two feet of snow.

He told us climbing that mountain was the hardest thing he's ever done. We know it won't be the last hard thing he does. That’s why when he goes to Middle East, and on to Asia, we will live believing in the all-encompassing presence of God. Luke cannot go where God is not. God is immanent. His presence pervades the universe. He is with us, everywhere. This theological truth brings comfort and peace in times that are uncertain to us, and no surprise to God.

Luke is resting and playing a few days in Zanzibar before he'll be challenged to look at the world through a different prism---different from the sidewalks and subways of South Philly, different from the seat of motos and impoverished slums of Kigali, different from looking up to the top of the mountain and down on the awesome creation of his Maker.


Jeff and I live our story, not a very adventurous one, but the path we were given to walk. We live by faith. God is with us.


He is present and it makes all the difference.


Thank you for your prayers for Luke and for me and Jeff as we trust the path that God has us on as his parents. Letting go has taken on a new dimension for us.