Following this past Sunday morning’s worship gathering at MoSt Church, my bride and I ate lunch together at Pipeline Grill with my daughter (Amber Wheeler) and her family (I highly recommend their catfish). In mid-meal, and out of the blue, my daughter’s oldest, five year-old Ethan, posed a direct and very important question to me.
“Dah-Do, where is MaMa?”
Let the reader understand: I am “Dah-Do” and “MaMa” is my mother, now 20 years deceased.
I paused for a moment to collect my thoughts, for I wanted to answer his question as well as I possibly could. It had been asked with thoughtfulness; I wanted to reply with the same.
However, before I could make reply, another interjected an answer, direct, concise, and thoughtful:
“She’s in heaven.”
I like that answer. I like it a lot! And perhaps that is enough on the matter right now for a five year-old.
But, I also know that my mother was not a Christian, not so, at least, in anything like the conventional sense of the term. Now was she a believer in God? Certainly. Did she believe the Bible was God’s communication with people? Absolutely. Was she a virtuous woman? Far excelling the vast majority of Christians I know (for the record, through the years I’ve had a number of Christian women who knew her well describe her to me as “a saint” in their eyes; their words).
And yet, it all comes full stop right there.
And so, the question, and its true depth, remains:
“Where is MaMa?”
Now while my answer is anything but as concise as the one shared, allow me to share the answer here and now that I was forming as we broke bread (and catfish) together. I like to think of me answering that question after having scooped him up, having set him in my lap, and with my arms wrapped around him in a gentle hug, while I whispered this in his ear.
“Ethan, my man, listen to me very carefully: MaMa is in God’s good hands. That’s where she is: in God’s good hands. Much like this hug I’m giving you right now.
“God does nothing but good; in fact, that’s the only thing he does do – good! And with his own hands, he made MaMa; he gave her her life. And that was good! With his own hands, he gave her life here on earth for many, many years. And that was good! He took good care of her all that time. And that was good! And she used her own hands to do many good things in her life for other people. And that was good, for God’s good hands were involved in all of those good things she did! In fact, he remembers every one of those things and can’t forget them. And that’s really good!
“And so, when MaMa died, God scooped up her spirit and now holds her close to him with his good hands of love and tenderness. Again, sort of like this hug of love I’m giving you right now. That is where she is today – in God’s good hands, his good hands of great love.”
“Now you might wonder about death. All things eventually die. But I will tell you this: you need not fear death or worry about it at all, for God has that stuff whipped! God has the last say in everything and whatever he says, and then does with his good hands, is good for her, is the right thing to do with us, and for all. In life, in death, in all things, God always does the good, right thing.
“So, what you and I, what everyone really, needs to do is to live to please God. To live our life here and now like we are walking with God, holding his good, strong hand of love. And then, someday when we are gone, we too will be in God’s good hands. And God will do what is good for us forever and ever.
“You keep loving God and loving people. God’s good hands takes care of everything else.”
And then I’d tighten the squeeze of my hug, “scob his knob” a bit, set him back on his chair, swipe one of his french fries, give him a big grin, and just let him take it from there.
Thank you, Father God, for my young theologian of a grandson, Ethan. May he seek you with all of his heart, all of his days, with all of his ways. May he find you, again and again and again, until the day you scoop him up, too, and take him in your strong arms forever. I ask this in your Son’s name. Amen.
I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the abyss and a huge chain. He seized the dragon, the old snake, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. He threw him into the abyss, then locked and sealed it over him. (Revelation 20.1-3a CEB)
Here are links to five articles that I have found to be interesting and helpful reading.
American history, corruption, fear, hate, hysteria, intimidation, lynchings, racism, revenge, rumors, social memory, suspicion, terrorism & violence: Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror [essential reading]
“Between the Civil War and World War II, thousands of African Americans were lynched in the United States. Lynchings were violent and public acts of torture that traumatized black people throughout the country and were largely tolerated by state and federal officials. These lynchings were terrorism.”
Bible study, humility & reading: How to Make the Most of Your Bible Study [essential reading]
“We are pulled in many directions: work, family, ministry, fitness and many other activities tug at our schedules. The more we are tugged, the more we have to work to guard the time we give to personal study of our Bibles. When we are at last able to sit down to read, we want every precious minute to count. Whether we have 15 minutes or two hours, we want our efforts to yield the most benefit possible. But how can we make the most of the time we have to read and study?”
Community & forgiveness: The Act of Rigorous Forgiving
“There’s something sad in Brian Williams’s need to puff up his Iraq adventures and something barbaric in the public response. … the larger question is how we build community in the face of scandal. Do we exile the offender or heal the relationship? Would you rather become the sort of person who excludes, or one who offers tough but healing love?”
God, non-violence, violence & witness: Why NO Violence in Jesus’ Name is Justified
“The character of God is manifested when instead of employing violence against enemies to crush them, Jesus loves his enemies in order to redeem them. The kingdom is revealed when instead of protecting himself, Jesus allows himself to be murdered. God’s love is marvelously put on display when instead of clinging to his perfect holiness, Jesus puts himself in the place of sinners. And the nature of the rule of God shines radiantly in Jesus’ final prayer for the forgiveness of those who moments earlier mocked him, spit on him, whipped him, and crucified him (Luke 23:34).
“This is simply who God is and what God is up to in the world, and so living consistent with God’s character, reflected by the cross and the teachings of Jesus, is simply what it means to submit to God’s reign. In sharp contrast to the kingdom-of-the-world thinking, therefore, disciples of Jesus aren’t to act first and foremost on the basis of what seems practical or effective at securing a good outcome. We are to act on the basis of what is faithful to the character and reign of God, trusting that, however things may appear in the short term, in the long run God will redeem the world with such acts of faithfulness.”
Judging, judgment & love: Judgment: Isn’t Judging Others Healthy?
“Isn’t it time to for us to ruthlessly cut out judgment of one another from our sermons, conversations and mindsets? Isn’t it time for us to address personal and social change with long suffering love and when that doesn’t work—doesn’t transform ourselves and those we ought to care for—shouldn’t we try long-suffering love again?”
Here are links to five articles I consider interesting and helpful for thought.
American history, memory, myth & religion: Why 1940s America Wasn’t as Religious as You Think — the Rise and Fall of American Religion
“It’s common for people to believe that religion was always more vibrant in the past. Earlier generations were always more religious than we are, right? Not always. Religiosity can rise and fall just like other things do over time. In fact, America of the 1940s was about as religious as America today.”
Bethlehem, nativity scenes & the birth of Jesus: Bethlehem – the Manger and the Inn
“What actually did a stable look like in the time of Christ?”
Church shopping: ‘It Meets My Needs’ and Other Bad Reasons for Choosing a Church
“If you’re like most, a day is coming when you too will be on the search for a new church to call home. When that day comes, you may want to think twice before using these all-too-common reasons for making your choice.”
God, love, punishment & suffering: Did God Love the Egyptians?
“Did God love the Egyptians when he struck Egypt with plagues? In the larger biblical narrative, the answer is obviously yes. The prophet Isaiah later prophesies about judgments on Egypt (Isa 19:1-17, 22; akin to judgments he also prophesies against Israel); as a result, Egyptians will turn to God and they will become part of God’s people alongside Israel (19:18-25). In the law of Moses, Israelites are forbidden to despise Egyptians, because Israel’s ancestors found refuge in Egypt (Deut 23:7).”
Judging: Fellowship & Judgment
“‘Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.’ (Luke 6:37) These instructions are more specific iterations of the golden rule (Matthew 7:12), if you think about it.”
Ephraim’s glory will fly away like a bird— no birth, no pregnancy, no conception! (Hosea 9.11)
ALS, life, death, & meaning: I Am So Honored by Tim Stevens
“At some point, in the last few months, my focus has shifted. And I am overwhelmed with gratefulness. I have a front-row seat to watching a man praise God until his dying breath. He is a prisoner in his own wheelchair, yet does not curse God. He endures humiliating processes with the hospice nurse, yet he still smiles. He can’t walk, scratch his nose, shoo a fly away, hold a pen or say a word. And yet he still praises God.”
“The key elements of an excellent children’s ministry are solid safety procedures, an environment that is comfortable and aesthetically pleasing to a child, great curriculum that teaches biblical truth and how to apply it and most importantly, an amazing team of volunteer leaders who understand the vision of your ministry. … The responsibility of leading children to become fully devoted followers of Christ is one of the most daunting tasks you can face. It’s an intimidating challenge for even the most spiritually grounded. Here’s what we believe (because it’s scriptural): God has placed that task squarely on the shoulders of parents. So our role is to offer them a support system.”
Fear: Fear! Fear! Fear! by Mark Woodward [required reading]
“So how does a Christian respond to a world driven by drama and conflict …? Christians do not need an addiction to conflict. … If you are one who writes or speaks or provokes others to think or to do, be careful about manipulating artificial conflict or dramatic words to create fear. FDR said the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Scripture is full of God’s messengers saying, ‘Be strong and courageous, and do not be afraid!’ Fear is not a harmless emotion.”
Funerals & grief: What to Say (and Not to Say) at a Funeral by Caleb Wilde
“Here’s the text of an article written by Gloria Horsley that can help you know what to say and what not to say.”
God, judgment & wrath: The Judgment Boomerang by Gred Boyd
“… sin has natural consequences that boomerang back to us. While God’s wrath has serious consequences for us, we need to understand how God uses his wrath. In the clip, Greg talks about the mistaken picture of God that allows for the fear of God, but does not make it possible to really love God.”