We Are Strangers in a Strange Land

My wife’s ninety-year-old mother died last Thursday and we mourn. Someone reminded me that when we grieve, “we do not grieve like those who have no hope.”

I grew up in a family that camped. My father was a pastor who got four weeks of vacation. We took all four weeks at once, camping the whole month of July, mostly in wooded campsites next to windy lakes. We strapped our small Sunfish sailboat on top of our sagging station wagon.

Williamson Family Vacation, July 1968

Those vacations were a young boy’s fantasy, filled with mysterious forests and stormy seas. Four weeks wasn’t enough. We hauled our home wherever we went. It was often hot, but sometimes cold, and occasionally rainy. The car always broke down. And I loved it.

I recently heard a quote from the Epistle to Diognetus that resurfaced all those old memories,

The difference between Christians and the rest of mankind is not a matter of nationality, language, or customs. Christians do not live apart in separate cities, speak any special dialect, nor practice any eccentric way of life…

For them, any foreign country is a motherland, and any motherland is a foreign country.

The Riddle of the Psalms

For the last forty years, my prayer time has started with the Psalms. And for forty years they have alternately given me hope and then pulled that rug of hope from beneath me. They make great promises, but when I pray them with honest self-reflection, the promises fade away.

the-riddle-of-the-psalms

Look at the hopeful assurances offered:

  • Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear. (Ps. 27:3)
  • The Lord preserves the simple. When I was brought low, he saved me. (Ps. 116:6)
  • The Lord is my Shephard; I shall not want. (Ps. 23:1)

The problem is simple: these promises seem reserved for Saint Francis, not me:

  • The Lord dealt with me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he rewarded me. (Ps. 18:20)
  • Give ear to my prayer from lips free of deceit! (Ps. 17:1)
  • If I have repaid my friend with evil … let the enemy pursue my soul and overtake it, and let him trample my life to the ground. [YIKES!!] (Ps. 7:4-5)

When I try to pray phrases like, “I have trusted in the Lord without wavering,” the words dribble out of my mouth and splatter on the floor.

What’s So Important About Hearing God?

For God does speak–now one way, now another–though man may not perceive it” (Job 33:14).

Humanity was created to be in a relationship with God; not God as a simple supplement, nor God as mere miracle worker. God created us to know him personally, as a father with a child, friend to friend, and even (breathtakingly intimate) as a husband with a wife.

Hearing God in Conversation

At the beginning of time, Adam and Eve walked and talked with God in the cool of the garden. That’s what we were made for.

When humanity disobeyed God, we didn’t just break a rule, we broke a relationship, exactly—exactly!—like when a spouse commits adultery. And that broken connection with God shattered our rapport with him. The root of all relationships is communication and we lost our ability to hear God.

Oswald Chambers said, “If you are not sensitive enough to detect His voice, you will quench it, and your spiritual life will be impaired.” Failure to hear God harms our wellbeing!

At immeasurable cost—the cost of the cross—God entered into history and acted to save us. But save us for what? Just to be good little boys and girls? No! The God of the universe saved us to restore our relationship with him. And that means communication…

“…So that we might know him” (Phil. 3:10).

My book Hearing God in Conversation was released early by Amazon last week (surprising my publisher). I wrote it to help reconnect us with the creator, to embrace his repair of our impairment; to hear his voice in our daily lives, to grow in intimacy with the One who loves us.

And to rediscover a conversational relationship with God.

Deathbed Advice

My father died twenty years ago last Friday, April Fool’s Day, 1996. (I often wonder if he planned that day.) A week before his death, knowing his death was imminent, my father made a suggestion. Deathbed advice has power other suggestions can’t match.

Deathbed Advice

My dad told me that many of the people he counseled lived their adult lives being controlled by their parents. Most parental-control situations are easily recognized: parents who bully and browbeat or those who provide unceasing, unsolicited advice.

He told me there is another insidious control which most people fail to recognize. It’s the unconscious control our parents exert when we try our hardest not to be like them.

My father summarized his advice like this:

If you spend your life trying not to be like somebody you will spend your life not being somebody.

We Are Strangers in a Strange Land

I grew up in a family that camped. My father was a pastor who got four weeks of vacation. We took all four weeks at once, camping the whole month of July, mostly in wooded forests next to lakes. We hauled a small Sunfish sailboat on top of our sagging station wagon.

Williamson Vacation 1968

Williamson Family Vacation, July 1968

Vacations were a young boy’s fantasy, filled with mysterious forests and stormy seas. Four weeks wasn’t enough. We carried our home wherever we went. It was often hot, sometimes cold, and occasionally rainy. The car always broke down. And I loved it.

I recently heard a quote from the Epistle to Diognetus that resurfaced all those old memories,

The difference between Christians and the rest of mankind is not a matter of nationality, language, or customs. Christians do not live apart in separate cities, speak any special dialect, nor practice any eccentric way of life… [They] conform to ordinary local usage in their clothing, diet, and other habits…

For them, any foreign country is a motherland, and any motherland is a foreign country.

Spiritual Judo

Three decades ago, I reached the high water mark of my personal physical fitness. I ran thirty miles a week, performed three hundred pushups a day, and regularly boxed. (Ever since I’ve been on a downward slide, reaching new low water marks almost daily.)

2004 Bucharest Europeans 14/16th May

Used with permission: www.judophotos.com

While in that peak physical condition (never mind its short duration), I met a man with a black belt in Judo. He was twice my age, plump, and he wheezed when he walked. I was lifting bars with heavy weights; I think he was visiting bars with many beers.

He was the first black belt of any kind I had ever met. I was curious, and a bit skeptical. Could this chubby, middle-aged man really beat me in a friendly fight?

Alas. The glory of my youthful strength was unmatched by any glory of real-world wisdom. That fool inside me challenged him to hand-to-hand combat.

Never since childhood had I spent so much time on the ground. The lawn and I quickly became intimate friends. I huffed, puffed, wheezed, and groaned (and maybe cursed), as he effortlessly tossed me to the grass over and over again.

It didn’t matter what punch I threw. Every jab, hook, and uppercut resulted in me lying on my back, staring at the sky, gasping for air, and wondering what had happened.

My First Parachute Jump Ever … and My Last

As a young boy, my weekends were filled with imaginary World War II battles. Nearby parks fielded the Battle of the Bulge, and the skeleton of a local building project (fatefully a new funeral home) formed our bombed-out buildings.

Dirtballs became our hand grenades, ditches our foxholes, and blankets our pup tents. We sacrificed our bodies (and the knees of our jeans) to save the world from Hitler.picture_para_drop

One Friday evening I watched the movie, D-Day. I was captured by the airborne parachute jumps, the bravery and heroism, and the infiltration behind enemy lines.

The next day I made my first (and last) parachute jump. I confiscated a sheet from my mom’s closet and requisitioned rope from my dad’s tool room. I tied one end of the ropes to the corners of the sheet and the other ends around my chest.

I slithered through an upstairs window and crept onto the roof. With my parachute and lines carefully laid out behind me, I perched at the edge of our second story, and I hurled myself into the air behind enemy lines. I waited for the tug of the opening chute.

Lying on my back, I looked up. The chute still lay on the roof, and the carefully cut lines hung limply over the gutter. I had forgotten to measure the height of the roof.

My lines were ten feet too long.