Posts Tagged ‘God

25
Nov
20

In Which Circumstances??

Would you look at this mess? 

A worldwide killer virus is floating around in the air, seeking out the most vulnerable among us, killing record numbers of people, especially people of color… and you want me to DO WHAT??

  • “… give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus…” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, NRSV)

Not only did this virus cause Joan and I to cancel our plans to join the rest of the family for a long overdue gathering, but now it has been rude enough to smash our SCALED DOWN Thanksgiving plans… and you want me to DO WHAT??

  • “… give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus…” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, NRSV)

And what about those working parents out there? What about the folks who have to figure out some way to do their jobs over a video screen, supervise their (often reluctant) remote-learning children, put meals on the table, and maintain a home? 

And you want them to DO WHAT??

  • “… give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus…” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, NRSV)

And in this time of roiling turmoil outside, when most people can hunker down and bask in the comforting embrace of home and hearth, Joan and I instead wake up each morning to face a construction zone full of dust and noise and sheetrock and extension cords… and you want me to DO WHAT??

  • “… give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus…” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, NRSV)

And even though some of the dust of the recent election seems to be settling and new, orderly pieces appear to be falling into place, we still face the reality of a nation deeply divided along racial and political lines… and you want me to DO WHAT??

  • “… give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus…” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, NRSV)

And seriously… don’t even get me started on the endless litany of aches and pains and visits to doctors and chiropractors and physical therapists and testing sites and pharmacies and all that other stuff that seems to go hand-in-hand with having attained a **certain** age… and you want me to DO WHAT??

  • “… give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus…” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, NRSV)

I have to ask: God, are you sure you really understand what you are asking of us?

I mean, do you have any concept of what we have to deal with down here in the land of flesh and blood and traffic lights and fire ants? 

Do you have the slightest notion of just how tough it is to make it from Point A to Point B some days… even without today’s extra stressors of disease, sleaze, and unease?

And then it hits me; of course you do!

You know EXACTLY what we are up against. You are intimately acquainted with every ache, pain, fear, frustration, joy, disappointment, dream, distress, annoyance, and heartache we will ever face… in a thousandlifetimes.

You know us because you loved us enough to BECOME us.

Nothing about this human experience is foreign to you.

AND YET… you still command us to GIVE THANKS…

… in ALL circumstances. 

You know what? I might just give it a try.

I mean, shoot… whining hasn’t worked.

Throwing a one-man pity party hasn’t worked.

Sulking over here in my corner hasn’t worked. 

Maybe I’ll try your way instead.

What’s the worst that could happen?

Abundant blessings;

23
Nov
20

The Eye of God

Beneath his mask of anger, bluff, and bluster, God sees…

  • God sees the fearful, insecure child hiding inside.

Beneath the surface of the spreader of careless gossip, God sees…

  • God sees the fragile, wounded heart, yearning to belong.

Beneath the exterior of the wild, risk-taking daredevil, God sees…

  • God sees the calloused heart aching to revive a sense of the wonder of life.

Beneath the veneer of the driven, polished, professional high achiever, God sees…

  • God sees the yawning deficit of love and self-regard.

Beneath the façade of cool indifference, God sees…

  • God sees the ocean of anxiety and insecurity.

Beneath the symptoms of depression and despair, God sees…

  • God sees a tender, hopeful heart, eager to connect.

Behind towering walls of debilitating addiction, God sees…

  • God sees the beautiful, flawless mirror of the soul, created to reflect its Source.

God sees what is.

God sees what was.

God sees what could be.

God sees it all.

God invites each of us to open the eyes of our hearts and see… REALLY see. 

… to see as God sees.

… to weep as God weeps.

… to love as God loves.

And then, having seen, to give thanks.

Abundant blessings;

20
Nov
20

“I Surrender!”

Like many men of my age, I was quite the little warmonger as a child.

My friends and I loved to do nothing more after school than get together in the big field behind Jeff and David’s houses and play ARMY. As soon as we got home, we would drop our books, say hello to our parents, grab our toy guns, and head out.

Please understand; these guns didn’t actually shoot anything. Not BBs, not pellets, not even air. We “killed” members of the opposing army by aiming our rifle at them and making some kind of “POW!” noise with our mouths. 

Each soldier was on the honor system to die fair and square when shot by someone from the other side.

One of the hardest things to do in the game of Army, however, was to surrender. 

Surrendering only became necessary when someone from the opposing army stealthfully crept up on your hiding place, pointed his gun at you and said, “OK, Rusty! (my childhood nickname). I see you there behind the garage. Put down your gun and come out with your hands up!”

To be captured was humiliating and embarrassing. Each of us would have preferred to be shot dead, complete with a well-rehearsed death swoon, over being captured by the other side.

Today, even though my last backyard Army battle took place more than 50 years ago, I look around and see that many of us still have the same problem that gripped my boyhood friends and me. 

That is to say, it seems that a lot of us today would rather die than surrender

The health crisis that grips our country is a prime example. The scientists and epidemiologists who have spent their lives studying these things tell us that we are all going to have to – at least temporarily – surrender some of our customary practices to stop the spread of COVID-19. 

They say, for example, that…

  • … we are going to have to surrender our plans for large family Thanksgiving gatherings.
  • … we are going to have to surrender our desire to walk around maskless in public places.
  • … we are going to have to surrender our plans to go to restaurants, sporting events, worship gatherings, and concerts. 
  • … we are going to have to surrender our habit of walking around with dirty hands.

But mostly, the doctors and scientists say, we are going to have to surrender our belief that we are each the masters (or mistresses) of our own domains, free from ANY need to constrain ANY of our behaviors.

We become incensed. We stand up proudly and say – with raised voices – “THAT’S not the America I believe in! No SIR! I live in the land of the FREE! I’m not surrendering my freedom to ANYONE!”

Which is kind of funny, considering all the “surrendering” we each do on a routine, daily basis. 

  • If you are married, you know exactly what I am talking about. Healthy marriages are based on the art of compromise…  in other words, the art of surrendering MY agenda to OUR agenda. 
  • When we get into a car, we surrender to the authority of our local traffic laws.
  • When we get onto a plane (which some people still do, I hear), we completely surrender our lives to the skill of our pilot and the integrity of the air traffic control system. 

And would you believe it? Jesus actually went so far as to teach his disciples that surrender was the key to eternal life! He is recorded in each of the gospels saying something similar, but here are his words from the Gospel of Mark: “He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.  For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?’” (Mark 8:34-35, NRSV). 

For many of us, the idea of surrender can still be frightening. It can suggest a loss of control over the circumstances of our lives. 

But what if, instead of seeing it as a matter of LOSING control, we instead saw surrender as TURNING OVERcontrol… 

… that is, turning over control to the One who designed the whole crazy thing in the first place?

Abundant blessings;

16
Nov
20

Longing for Results

Folks, I am so tickled with myself I can hardly stand it!

This past weekend I decided to take on a daunting auto maintenance task… and I DID IT! With all fingers and toes still accounted for, no less!

Actually, “daunting” might be a teeny bit of an overstatement. However, it is not an overstatement to say that I performed an auto maintenance task that was necessary and long overdue and that made a HUGEdifference. 

You see, Joan and I drive cars that are nine and 11 years old, respectively. Despite their advanced age, our cars are both reliable, paid for, and smooth running. But we have found that, over time, the headlights on each car were starting to look a little “frosted” and dull. Recently, while driving at night, we saw that they don’t light up the road as well as they once did.

And so … TA DAH! Enter the magical 3M Headlight Restoration Kit and Master Mechanic RUSSELL! [No… today’s blog post is not sponsored or paid for by the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company… Even though it really should be!]

After spending about 40 minutes on each car, working with my drill/power sander and the KIT, Joan and I are each now the proud owners of cars with clean, crystal clear headlights… just like the day they rolled out the factory door.

Ah! RESULTS

“Big deal,” I hear you saying, somewhat dismissively. “You cleaned up your car’s headlights! What will you do for an encore… vacuum the living room?”

In the first place, buster, it IS a big deal.

But besides the finished product itself, the thing that really caught me by surprise was how deeply SATISFYING it was to see a tangible OUTCOME from my efforts. All of which made me realize just how rarethat experience was for me. 

You see, my work – prior to my retirement last year – was in professional, ordained ministry. I found the work to be challenging, rewarding, frustrating, satisfying, uplifting, and soul-crushing… sometimes all in the same week. No two days were ever the same and The Unexpected was a regular visitor to my office door.

But as much as I felt a fit, a divine calling, and deep GRATITUDE for the work of ministry, I can’t really say I ever saw much in the way of tangible RESULTS from my work. 

I mean, sure, there were plenty of those “thin places” that Marcus Borg talks about… the times when you suddenly see that there is very little standing between you and God’s overwhelming glory and grace… the times that drive you to your knees in praise and awe. 

I experienced many, many “holy moments” with families at the bedside of a loved one, or in fervent prayer during a crisis, or while exploring the scriptures in a small group. I witnessed an abundance of transcendent moments of praise and worship that took my breath away and brought tears to my eyes. 

Nevertheless, it was a rare moment indeed to see a person in whom I could see the same kind of dramatic “before” and “after” profile I saw in my Altima’s headlight lenses. There were times in my work when – I will confess – I looked up from my relentless buffing and polishing and shining and said, “God… is my work EVERgoing to make a difference here?”

And inevitably God looked down with that gentle forbearance God is so famous for, smiled, and said, “Oh, Russell, my poor, misguided servant. How is it that you so consistently miss the point of the work I have called you to? How many times do I have to remind you that, 1.) results are in MY hands, not YOURS, and 2.) as a flawed, finite human being, you are not even equipped to see the eternal impact you might be making here?”

God then continued in that same gentle voice and said, “I guess this is the time when I need to remind you – YET AGAIN – that you were called to faithfulness, not to attaining any sort of earthly measures of success.”  

And then, as if to drive the point home, God gave one of those cosmic chuckles and said, “If you really want to see some results your work, may I suggest planting a garden? Or better yet, working on your CAR?”

All I could say in response was, “Touché, God. I’ll go get the ‘3M Headlight restoration kit’ right now.”

Abundant blessings;

12
Nov
20

No Strings Attached

Joan thinks of me as a hard-working guy.

  • The truth is, I am lazy to the core.

My doctor and various family members say they are impressed by my health and vitality.

  • The truth is, I hate to exercise and LOVE stuffing my face with “bad” food.

Some folks have described me as mellow and laid-back.

  • The truth is, I often have a hard time controlling my temper.

People have told me they like the way I write.

  • The truth is my writing has more rough edges and blatant errors than it should… especially considering my education and all these years of practice.

I have been complimented for my theological insight and apparent dedication to spiritual disciplines.

  • The truth is, I am much shallower and more spiritually immature than a person who calls himself a Christian really should be.

To some, I appear to be compassionate and actively invested in helping secure the well-being of other people.

  • The truth is, I am mostly concerned about myself and what is best for me.

Reading through this list, you might be tempted to believe I am brutally honest when it comes to self-assessment.

  • The truth is, I dwell mostly in the land of delusion and self-deception.

Jesus said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (John 8:32, NRSV). 

  • The truth is, facing hard realities about oneself is usually the last thing most people want to do.

Why is that do you suppose? I mean, if we take Jesus at his word (and I do), it means most of us regularly choose imprisonment over freedom… illusion over reality… enslavement over liberation.  

I suspect it has to do with the fact that it is a lot more comfortable to live inside our own, carefully constructed “house of mirrors” than it is to face up to the sharp edges of reality. 

  • It reminds me of my friend who refused to see a doctor about his periodic bouts of “heartburn” … right up until he died in his living room recliner of a massive heart attack. 
  • … or the character “Red” Redding (played by Morgan Freeman) in the movie Shawshank Redemption. After spending most of his life behind bars, Red is finally released from prison, but finds that he ultimately can’t handle the freedom of life on the outside. 

Yes, living in the truth is hard. But it is even harder if we neglect to factor God’s amazing, redeeming, life-changing, future-altering GRACE into the picture. 

We can’t ever forget that God SEES exactly who each of us is. God KNOWS us better than we know ourselves. God REMEMBERS every sin, error, and injury from our past. God ANTICIPATES every major and minor slip-up we will commit in the future.

AND YET… God says, “I forgive you. I love you. Because of my infinite, unconditional love for you, I put on flesh and died for you. In that same love, I offer you this new day as a blank slate, here for you to create upon. Yes, I know you will probably find a way to mess it up somehow, but I still give it freely to you… no strings attached.”

To which I can only say, “Hallelujah and AMEN!”

And THAT is the truth.

Abundant blessings;

04
Nov
20

Listening to the Dogs, Part II: Paying Attention

This is our dog, Patrick.

Patrick is a four-and-a-half-year-old Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier. He is the father of our other Wheaten, Rosie girl. 

Our nickname for Patrick is “Ever Vigilant.” We gave him that name because nothing… NOTHING… escapes Patrick’s notice. Here you see Patrick making a close inspection of a sewer we have walked by at least a hundred times… checking to make sure there are no threats or critters to be tended to.

Joan and I learned long ago not to expect brisk, breezy walks with Patrick. That’s because everything Patrick passes has to be carefully sniffed, inspected, and checked out. 

You know… just in case. 

Of course, Patrick’s vigilance can sometimes be taken a bit too far. His inability to let his guard down – even for a moment – must get a little wearying. He often jumps at the slightest noise or visual distraction.

But you know what? Sometimes I wish I were a little more like Patrick.

I wish I noticed more of what is happening in the world around me. 

Sometimes I catch myself wondering if I have lost that child-like ability to gaze in wonder at the seemingly mundane pieces of God’s astonishing creation that surround me every day.  

Even though I’ve seen them a zillion times, I feel as if I should still possess the capacity to be fascinated by the green of the grass, the puffiness of the clouds, the sound of the breeze blowing past me, and the smell of an approaching thunderstorm. 

Too often, I am sad to confess, I go through the world with my head down, ears closed, mind absorbed with something or someone that waits for me somewhere down the road… ignoring the splendor of the path I walk. 

Sometimes – in those distracted moments – I am jarred awake. And when that happens… when I find myself with eyes and ears suddenly wide open, I remember. 

I remember that I am blessed (we ALL are blessed) to live in a world that is DRENCHED in wonder… dripping with miraculousness… alive with mystery and splendor.

In that moment, if I tune in very carefully, I also remember that the God who created every one of us is also paying exquisite attention. 

I remember that nothing escapes God’s notice. As vigilant as Patrick is, God is a thousand times more vigilant. As the old church hymn says, “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.” 

But then sometimes, in the midst of a personal struggle, or when confronting any kind of widespread social injustice, I catch myself saying, “Well, God must be asleep at the switch. Surely, if God had been aware of that, it wouldn’t have happened.” 

But then I remember the words of the Psalmist who said, “He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep,” (Psalm 121:3-4, NRSV) and I am humbled.

God sees.

God knows.

Nothing is insignificant in God’s eyes. Jesus reminded us of that when he said, “Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:26, NRSV). 

God also cares more about the fine details of our daily lives than you and I can possibly imagine.

So today, be at peace. Notice the glory of the world right in front of you. [Actually, these words are much more intended to be spoken into the bathroom mirror to myself than to you. But if they speak to you too, please feel free to use them.]

Take comfort from the fact that you live under the eye of the “Ever Vigilant” Creator of the Universe. 

Abundant blessings;

03
Nov
20

Listening to the Dogs

Today, Joan and I will be spending a lot of time with the dogs. 

Given the events of this day, Tuesday, November 3, 2020, it seems like a wise idea.

We will be walking them, yes. Also playing with them, petting them, feeding them, and quite possibly correcting them when/if they misbehave… yes, all of that too. 

But today of all days, we will also be listening to them and learning from them. 

In case you are not blessed to have dogs in your life, you might not be aware that besides fulfilling important roles as food devourers and poop producers, dogs can also be teachers of important life lessons. I hope to capture a few of those over the coming days.

Today, Rosie and Patrick seem to be eager to teach us one thing above all else. And that lesson is: PEOPLE ARE AWESOME! I LOVE THEM SO MUCH!

If Joan and I go away – even for a short trip to the grocery store – and leave them here by themselves, we are almost knocked off our feet by the joyous reception we receive when we return.

And guests? If you come by for a cup of tea sometime, be prepared to be overwhelmed by excited jumping, licking, pawing, and overflowing joy at your arrival. I know, I know… we should be doing a much better job of training them not to do that. Bad dog parents!

But here is the thing: that exuberant greeting is offered to ALL who enter Chez Brown… white, black, blue, red, well-groomed, desperately needing a shower… no matter who it is. In fact, the other day our kitchen remodeling contractor left his pickup truck toolbox open and I saw – from a bumper sticker inside – that he is a supporter of the OTHER guy. i.e., not the candidate we voted for.  

AND YET! In spite of that, Rosie and Patrick jumped for joy when he showed up today, just as if he were a long-lost family member who had finally returned from the Crimean War after being presumed dead.

It is almost as if they were saying, “God made you, so we love you! Period! End of story!” 

They seem to know that with nearly eight billion people in the world today, the odds of finding anyone else that exactly fits all the human-made criteria for acceptance and lovability are vanishingly low. And so their decision (preceded, I’m sure, with much prayerful consideration) is to unconditionally love every person they meet. 

I am not sure if they read John’s gospel where Jesus tells his disciples, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you…” (John 15:12, NRSV), but they somehow seem to know it by heart and live it every day.

Who knows how this election will turn out? Not me, not the experts, and not the two people at the center of it.

We know that some folks will be ecstatic about the outcome. Some will be angry. Some will be depressed. Some will begin looking at real estate ads for Costa Rica. 

But if we really do a good job of listening to what Rosie and Patrick (and, well, Jesus, too) have to teach us today, we will probably be able to face tomorrow with joy in our hearts and hope for the future. 

Abundant blessings;

28
Oct
20

Standing Guard

I may have mentioned this before, but here in the northern Colorado part of the U.S., we are dealing with some pretty nasty forest fires at the moment. No one is quite sure how they started, but they have been fueled by high winds, dry conditions, and acres and acres of trees that were killed several years ago by the Japanese borer beetle. 

The fire closest to us – called the Cameron Peak Fire – has now attained the status of the largest forest fire in Colorado history. 

Even though the eastern edge of the fire is less than 10 miles away from us, Joan and I feel pretty safe. There is a 7500-foot mountain and a six-mile-long reservoir between us and the fire. That, plus God’s decision to dump about 20 inches of snow on the fire over the weekend helps us avoid pushing the panic button just yet.

As we have watched the heroic actions of both the volunteer and professional firefighters, we have seen them employ a tactic that seems particularly relevant for all of us… especially during this fraught time of politics, pandemic, and paranoia.

As they attempt to limit the spread of the fire – and protect homes – those firefighters strive to create a perimeter of safety. This can be accomplished by either removing trees (a.k.a., “fuel”), digging a trench, or even doing some kind of controlled pre-burning of patches of vegetation. 

Sometimes high winds foil their plans by carrying burning embers across those perimeters, but by and large it is an effective strategy for minimizing destruction.

And I don’t know about you, but lately I have been feeling the need to build some kind of “perimeter of safety” around my spirit to protect it from flames of an entirely different kind; 

  • … the flames of despair,
  • … the flames of hatred,
  • … the flames of bitterness,
  • … the flames of resentment,
  • … the flames of arrogance.

I look out and see them there… crackling and sparking in the pages of the newspaper, glowing in the posts and comments on social media, and popping and smoking in TV commercials and news stories. When I get too close, I can almost feel the edges of my soul starting to curl up as their heat intensifies. 

I am not an advocate of diving into the bunker and ignoring everything that is going on in the world. But I do believe we need to take great care when it comes to the matter of how those events – and their interpretations – affect our spirits. Just like with these forest fires, we can’t expect to keep dancing around the edge of the flames and not get burnt. 

King Solomon offers us this wise “fire protection” guidance in the book of Proverbs: “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” (Proverbs 4:23, NRSV).

Jesus – at the most dangerous point in his earthly life – knew the importance of guarding his spirit with some kind of perimeter of safety. And he knew exactly how to build it, too. If ever there was a moment to give in to fear, anger, or despair, the moment before his arrest surely was that moment. 

And so, what did he do? Just before he was arrested by the Roman guards, tried for blasphemy, and executed, Jesus went into the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. We know he prayed until he sweat drops of blood. We know he prayed for God’s will to ultimately be done… even if it did not necessarily sync with Jesus’ human will.

But he might also have prayed the words of Psalm 121 and said: I lift up my eyes to the hills — from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:1-2, NRSV). 

The point is: JESUS PRAYED. He connected and communicated with God. He put his immediate dilemma into the perspective of eternity. He found a strong, godly refuge in the midst of the roaring flames. 

And even though his body was eventually consumed by that great inferno, his spirit remained intact and unscathed.

And I am guessing that today he would probably advise us to follow him and do the same.

Abundant blessings;

25
Oct
20

Is it worth it?

It is no exaggeration to say that this is one of the most important presidential elections this country has ever seen.

This election is much more than a contest between two different men or two different political parties. 

It is a battle between two different visions of our common future.

I get that. 

I believe that.

But still I have to ask: Is it worth it?

That is to say, is it worth the cost of my relationship with you?

To be clear; I stand firmly in one camp. I believe in the inherent rightness of my camp’s position and platform. I have given money and time to promote the success of those in my camp.

And, for the life of me, I cannot begin to understand why anyone would choose the other one.

I have been tempted – and may have actually given in to the temptation more than once – to besmirch the intelligence and integrity of those in the other camp.

But here is the thing; when I actually stop and talk to them calmly and reasonably, I discover that the “other campers” are good people overall. 

They want some (not all) of the same things I want. 

Some (not all) love Jesus like I do. The ones that do – and those that don’t – aren’t obnoxious about it.

Some (not all) have families they cherish, just like I do. 

Their hearts beat, their eyes tear, their noses run, their knees creak, and their tastebuds tingle, just like mine. 

They drive cars, watch TV, cheer for teams, waste their time, mow their lawns, and listen to music, just like I do.

Again, make no mistake about it… I think the leaders they aspire to follow are wildly wrong… even dangerously so. Therefore, I can’t help but question their judgment when they say that they choose to follow that guy and that party.

But should I hate them?

Should I demonize them?

Should I forever trash any relationship with them because I question their political judgment?  

Maybe today is a good time to bring Paul’s words to the church at Ephesus to mind. You know, that time he said, “For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”(Ephesians 6:12, NRSV).

I don’t know… What do you think?

Abundant blessings;

24
Oct
20

Happy birthday, Andy

Yesterday was Andy’s birthday.

His first 39 birthdays were celebrated here on earth. The last three have been celebrated in Andy’s new, celestial home. 

Having the good fortune to be born exactly halfway between them, Andy was a childhood friend of my sons, Adam and Graham. The three of them played soccer together, hung out together, got in trouble together, grew older and (somewhat) wiser together.

Andy was always a ball of scarcely contained energy, savage humor, razor-sharp wit, and boundless curiosity. He was the kind of guy adults would meet and walk away saying, “That dude’s going to make a mark on the world someday. Not sure what kind of mark, but it won’t be missed, that’s for sure.”

When high school ended, as is often the case, Adam, Graham, and Andy’s common path split into three unique, divergent byways.

Over the ensuing twenty years, I heard very little about Andy and his travels. I knew that he inherited his mother’s passion for the world outside the United States and eventually found a career with the U.S. State Department. I also heard – through my sons – that he did a lot of “burning the candle at both ends” before finally getting married and fathering two beautiful sons of his own.

I next reconnected with Andy when four years ago – totally out of the blue – he called me on the phone and asked if we could meet for coffee. 

When we met at the neighborhood Panera, Andy cut straight to the chase. He sat down, tentatively sipped his coffee, and said, “About three weeks ago I found out that I have stage four pancreatic cancer. My parents are doing research on some experimental therapies, but the outlook is not good. I might have a year left, at most.”

He took another sip of his coffee, bit into a bagel, and – with his mouth full – asked, “So… what’s new with you?”

Classic Andy.

He told me his diagnosis had been – to put it mildly – a stunning alarm bell. Now, with the end of his life no longer some vague, far-off possibility in the murky, uncertain future, Andy’s priorities had dramatically shifted. He was now keenly interested in trying to wrap his brain around the realities of a “life beyond this life,” as he put it, “before I take the big Dirt Nap.” 

Thus began a year-long series of weekly meetings between Andy and I at Panera Bread Co.

I should clarify… the subject wasn’t always God and the afterlife when we met. As an intensely political creature, Andy also had a lot to get off his chest about the mournful state of the union and the duplicity of his elected representatives. 

But mostly we talked about God… the reliability of evidence for God’s existence… the gross inability of the institutional church to present a relevant and compelling case for faith… the afterlife (“…why should I even believe there is one?”)… the profusion of conflicting faith claims and traditions… the persistence of evil in a redeemed world… you know, the usual stuff. 

Andy’s father, Tom, told me I should be very proud that Andy kept meeting with me and asking questions. He said, “Andy is a tough audience. He takes no prisoners and suffers no fools.” And while I agreed that Andy came at the topic with a lot of intelligence and skepticism, I found him to possess a genuine openness and eagerness to learn… this despite the F-bombs he regularly dropped in the middle of our discussions.

I never left our conversations entirely sure whether I had “broken through” with Andy (whatever that means), until one day he surprised me with a request. He looked at me and asked, “Would you baptize me?”

It was an open, eager question, asked casually… the same way he might have asked, “Would you like a bagel?” But it was clear that he knew exactly what he was asking and why. And so, on a Tuesday afternoon, surrounded by a few friends and family members, we met in the chapel of a nearby church and celebrated Andy’s new life in Christ. 

It wasn’t QUITE what he wanted… he asked for the full dunk immersion treatment… but it was a Christian baptism, nonetheless, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 

Then, less than a month later, in the local Hospice House, enfolded in the loving embrace of many of his family and friends, Andy left this world and entered the next. I had gone over a couple of days before he died with my guitar… thinking that a few lightly strummed tunes might be a soothing accompaniment for everyone. After the first two chords at his bedside, however, Andy turned weakly toward me and said, “Russ… would you please stop.”

Classic Andy. 

Since then, his parents have told me that I helped Andy grow in his faith at a critical time. And I suppose there is some truth in that. But I look back on those Wednesdays at Panera as the time when Andy helped me grow in ways I hadn’t even thought possible.

And for that, I will be eternally grateful. 

Rest in peace, Andy. Rest forever in the arms of the God who loves you.

Abundant blessings… especially to you, Tom and Jodi.




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