Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A Friend Dies

A friend died last night. I had known her for more than three decades. We were coworkers. She was driving in one direction on a local highway when a vehicle going the other way shed its trailer, which crushed her car. Completely, totally unexpected. A fluke. But she is gone.

She was a wonderful person. I will not try to describe her here. She touched many lives in her 55 years on earth. She wrote a story with her own living that needs no footnote from me.

I have promised myself, whenever I remember her passing, I will strive all the more to make good use of my time here on earth. Soon enough, my own life will end. It may be tonight. It may be decades away. My friend's death will serve to keep me vigilant in the use of a very precious resource, my time. I can use it to encourage, to help, to love. I can use it to nurse grudges, to gossip, to worry. I can use it to build, to repair, to caress. I can use it to destroy, to accuse, to strike in anger.

So many ways to use my time. Some are worthy. Some are shameful.

May God grant me the wisdom to use my time well.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Opportunity Knocks

I still haven't really figured out what my career will be now that I can no longer label myself as "a manager at HP". The one thing I am certain of is that God wants me to use every opportunity to encourage others. These opportunities come in a incredible variety of avenues. This morning I received a call from Jennifer Goodenough. This is a young lady I admire greatly. She has been working in the Dominican Republic for three years helping to support the Dominican church and to help the people of the Dominican Republic (many of whom are very poor) and more recently the people of Haiti (where people are even poorer). Barbara and I have been sending her a modest amount of support during her time there, and we plan to continue. It occurred to me that someone might read this blog and feel moved to help Jennifer as well. Funding is often an issue for those who are doing such incredibly important work. Check out Jen's blog in my list of links. ( I have known Jennifer since she was a little girl. I am happy to be able to recommend her to you.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Death, Early or Late

I wonder why it is that we humans tend to be so afraid of an early death for ourselves or our loved ones. I am old enough now to more fully appreciate the pain that comes with aging and the difficulties that the elderly must often endure.

I once believed that our life on this earth was the only one we would ever know. Any pleasure to be had must be had in this life. Even then I was aware that there would also be pain. As a young man I was optimistic that I could enjoy enough pleasure to trump the pain. Consequently I hoped for a long life.

I now believe that there will be a life after this one. Each of us may live forever in the presence of God with no more crying and pain. Or we may live in the eternal torment that is separation from God. I do not know why any of us would choose separation from God.

I trust that God will forgive me for all thoughts and deeds that would separate me from him. I cannot trust that he will forgive those who refuse to believe in him or who refuse to believe that they are in need of his forgiveness.

Consequently, I do not fear an early death. I have been afraid of the pain that comes in this life. More and more I find that I can look beyond that pain to the life that is to come. I pray that I will continue to grow in that way. I pray I may be of some use to God as I continue to struggle along in this life.

As for all other people, my greatest hope is that they will know God and his grace before their life on this earth ends. Whether they live long or die young, that is what matters most for their sake. If I must outlive some whom I love, it will be hard. But I would be selfish to cling to them when I feel assured that they are leaving this life for a better one.

As for you, dear reader, may you know God's grace and forgiveness even as you realize where you have fallen short of the mark in this life. And in our remaining time in this life, may you and I glorify him in the love we have for one another.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Five Approaches to Conflict

Barbara and I attended a marriage seminar last week. One real eye opener for me was a one hour class on conflict. The instructor is a professor at Kings College and Seminary, Dr. Wess Pinkham. He has decades of experience as a conflict mediator. My little summary here will not do him justice. But I want to write it up if only for my own edification:

He taught that there are five approaches to conflict. The last one I will name, collaboration, is often held up as the best approach. When I worked as a corporate drone this was always exalted as the win/win approach. The instructor urged us to see each of the five styles as valid in certain situations. This is not situational ethics. It is using different approaches to conflict resolution depending on the situation. He went on to give examples of how Jesus had used each of the five styles during his ministry, as recorded in the gospels. Here is my summary:

1. I'll get out. Avoid. see John 11: 45-57
2. I'll get them. Fight for your side. Win/Lose see Mark 11: 15-18
3. Compromise. Meet halfway. see Luke 20: 1-8
4. Accommodate. Give in. see Matthew 5: 38-42
5. Collaborate. Win/Win see John 8: 3-11

I don't know whether this material is original to Dr. Pinkham, but he did a great job of presenting it and explaining it. Here are three statements he made that are listed in order of how easy they are for me to believe (starting with the easiest):

- Conflict reveals the soul. (Ouch, all too true)
- Thank God for breakdowns. They lead to breakthroughs.
- Conflict can be a miracle moment for ministry. (This is a new way
for me to look at conflict)

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Sierra Leone

Here is about 5 minutes of edited video of Barbara's trip to help churches in Sierra Leone. She traveled with eight other folks from here in Oregon. There are lots of kids in much of the video because the focus was on partnering with the churches on how to teach kids.

LA Rush Hour

Barbara and I played hooky one afternoon from the marriage seminar we just went to in southern California. We drove over to Santa Monica, walked the beach, and ate in a nice seafood restaurant with a view of the ocean. Then we drove home at rush hour right through downtown LA.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Why Was This Woman Smiling?

She was smiling because she was holding her grandson, Daniel. She hopes to smile about that again in January, Lord willing. I just bought tickets for both of us to fly to Norway.

Probability and Individuals

Were I to select one thousand names at random from a list of U.S. citizens,
I would have a very good chance of telling you how long they will live, on average. In the twenty first century, most of us live until we are in our seventies, eighties, or older. That could change, but for the past few decades, one could have made a decent prediction for a group of one thousand. Insurance companies hire people to do exactly that. They go broke if their numbers are wrong.

Were I to select a single name from a list of U.S. citizens, I could not tell you how long they would live. Even for the group of 1,000, I was depending on trends to continue as they have. For an individual there is no trend. There is no average. There is no distribution.

Anyone of us could die after a few moments, months, years, or decades.

For the most part, it seems wise to operate according to probabilities. I wear a seat belt and have air bags. If millions of us do so, many lives will be saved. However, I may be the guy whose neck is broken by the air bag or who would have been ejected safely through a window before the car caught fire.

Not convinced? Let's say you were pretty good at random coin tosses. Over time you racked up a very even tally of heads and tails. 50/50. Then you got a streak of ten tails in a row. What is the probability of heads or tails for the next toss. It is still 50/50. If you are like me, there is a part of your mind that screams that that could not be true. It has to be more likely that a heads is going to pop up after ten tails in a row. Sorry, it isn't so. The experiment to verify that is simple. Do enough coin tosses and you will verify what I have said. People have actually done that sort of thing.

I write this because as I grow (yes, older, but let's just say grow) I realize that it is very important to distinguish between what I know to be true and what I think to be true simply because of what I have seen in the past or because I operate according to averages and probabilities.

God spoke to Jonah and said: "Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs." If I cling to false ideas, I forfeit the opportunity to partner with God, who actually does know when I will die, whether I will have money or not, and what I will eat for lunch today.

Over the years I have put in an increasing, but still very modest, amount of time trying to hear what God has to say to me. I can say with certainty that I have heard him well at times. I can also say that much of the time, I really don't feel that I hear much of anything. I am far too selfish, distracted, stubborn, prideful (choose any one or all).

For seat belts, mutual funds, and avoiding the wrong parts of town, I generally stick to going with the probabilities simply because I don't have any better ideas. However, I always want to be open to the idea that God may be urging me to sell the mutual funds or go to the wrong parts of town. I still can't bring myself to say that he might urge me to leave my seat belt unbuckled. I know God is listening, so I will say this: "God if you want me to leave my seat belt unbuckled, please make it very, very clear that it is your idea."

One last thing. God is not surprised by our choices. Whether we hear him rightly or not, he has plans in place to handle it. It appears that the thing he desires most is that we want to hear him and obey. When we fail, his plan already accounts for that. But if we don't want to hear or obey, we are free to stumble along blindly and see what happens. We forfeit the grace that could be ours.

Handsome Sam

Here is Sam, all dressed up for his Homecoming Dance date.
He and I shopped for the suit and shirt.
This is my youngest child and he is over six feet tall, wearing a suit, and taking a Russian exchange student to the dance. Time does fly.