Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Death, Life, Resurrection

In a few weeks will be the first anniversary of Brendon Coates’s death. One of my church members in Abilene, Brendon was a Leukemia patient, who after two years of valiant fighting succumbed to death’s grip at age 5. He was a good kid, full of life and adventure and possessing an amazing confidence in God’s goodness.

In the days and weeks that followed his death, a number of remarkable things happened. One of his leukemia friends, still in the hospital, asked her dad why they didn’t tell her Brendon had died. When asked how she found out, she replied, “Brendon told me last night when he came to see me.” Then, in the middle of the night, Brendon’s mom and dad woke up to sounds of children laughing coming from their daughter’s room. She was now their only child. When they went in to see her, she was already awake. When asked about the laughing, she said, “Brendon came to play with me. He sure likes heaven, Mom.”

I don’t really know what to make of these events, but I know they are not uncommon, particularly among children. It does, however, make me wonder about the realities of our world, our ‘visible’ world. There is much that keeps me busy —preparing dinner, cleaning, laundry, playing with the dog, talking over things with Heather, helping my boys read before bed, the work of ministry—at times without thought of God’s heavenly reality. I tend to draw the lines between this world and the next with such rigid demarcation.

But what if those lines were not as stark? What would happen if we knew our actions today were intricately blurred into the realities of heaven? Or, contrarily, if heaven’s actions were purposefully blurred into our lives? How would our lives, our work, our ministry be different if we could see the host of heaven leaning over the cosmic balconies of eternity, and in full joy like children laughing, encouraging us in all we do? Oh, how I long to be there more often!

Brendon’s story reminds us that we ARE there, whether we accept it as true or not. For Brendon’s story did not end in death. Through the resurrection of Christ, Brendon’s story continues in eternity. And every now and then, those who have faith as children see glimpses of it. And for us, through the same resurrection, our stories continue. Whether it is polishing furniture, visiting the hospitalized, organizing finances, answering phones, caring for children, relating to our loved ones, we continue the work of God’s kingdom. And it makes a difference. In this world. And the next!


Saturday, September 13, 2008

Dying Moments

Today I am officiating a funeral for a little boy named Brendon. Remarkable character, full of life, and animated by something larger than his own life and circumstances. Brendon died Sept 10. If you have a chance, take time to read his mom's narrative of those dying moments (below). You will be blessed, and your life will be better for it!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008 5:20 PM, CDT
It is with a heavy heart and a tired mind that I have to tell you that Brendon Scott Coates, earned his angel wings and passed from this world into heaven this morning at 0609.He went peacefully...I was sleeping next to him and was woken at around 0500 by Tony who told me that his heart rate was very slow. I held my baby and just stared at his face, counted every single eyelash, rubbed every inch of his beautiful body and watched him as the breaths got smaller and smaller and the heartbeat faded and faded and his color simply fell from his body, and then eventually he just slipped away. He didn't take any last big breath, he wasn't gasping, he wasn't in any kind of pain was as if while I was holding him, God wrapped his arms around both of us and just transfered Brendon from my arms into his. His heart just stopped beating silently. He looked as though he had a smile on his face, that cute innocent Brendon grin he so many times had even when times where rough. It was his way of saying, "it will be okay Mom, you're gonna be okay". I could almost hear his sweet little voice saying that to me as he left.

Friday, September 12, 2008

A Franciscan Benediction

I ran across this quote--a Franciscan benedition--from my wonderful wife Heather. It is the quote included in her email signature, and it has really rung something with me. "Benediction" comes from the roots for "good word." It is worth ruminating on this good word...

"May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart.

"May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.

"May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy.

"And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done."

Beautiful, provokative, inspiring, challenging!


Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Sims Family Pic

Here is a fun pic of our wonderful family. Though Michael is a little worn out, most of us are having a great time.

Noah (green shirt), 6 yrs.
Daniel (red shirt), 5 yrs.
Michael (blue/brown), 21 mos.

(courtesy of

Follow Up to Tragedy

A couple of people have asked about this past year. At another time I will provide more details about the challenges and blessings we have experienced. For now, please see the following blog entry. It will give you an idea of one challenge we've experienced, which continues to have profound effect in our congregation.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Not of This World

"Not of This World." These words struck me as odd. Emboldened in a creative, edgy font, spanning the back window of a new, sytlish crossover automobile, these words hit me with a strange irony. I could not help but laugh, at first. After all, what could be more humorous than using the proud, cultural icon of American living--an automobile--as a means for promulgating a counter-cultural, other-worldly ethos. Therein lies the irony--using culture to bash culture.

Personally, this is disconcerting to me. However, it is so common in our Christian sub-culture, especially among the younger generation (including mine). "Not of This World" seems to be the mantra of so many Christians today. It can be summed up like this... "Man, all we need to do is look at the world and do just the opposite." Excellent (sarcastic grin). We are basing our Christian ethic on "counter-culturalism" rather than an intentional discerning of what it means to be a Christian in our day and age. And in doing so, there are several fallacies I find deleterious to the Christian church as a whole and to a serious, personal devotion to Christ.

First, if we base something on anything other than God, it becomes an idol. Sounds silly, but I really believe this one. As soon as we start looking at the culture as a basis for measuring the practice of our faith, even if it is a "counter" measure, we lose sight of what we are to do... seek first the kingdom of God. Culture becomes our norm for practice and behavior. Then, scripture, prayer, the example of Christ, or the leading of the Holy Spirit all become interpretive vehicles for furthering our conviction based on "counter-culture" ideology. Not far off is an outright rejection of God as understood through our classic confessions of faith.

Second, what happens if the culture we live in is predominantly Christian? I believe much of our society has been established on a Christian ethos. I think of civic organizations helping to make a difference in the community, stores and factories closed on Sundays because Christian worship is a central aspect of society, morality that knows right from wrong, an education system that provides an opportunity for the less fortunate to excel in life, not to mention a generation who sacrificed their own lives to ensure the freedom of "other" people. Life, liberty, self-responsibility, sacrifice for the greater good--are these not good qualities that come from God? Yes, our society may have gone overboard a bit, such that liberty and self-responsibility have birthed radical individualism. And I am convinced no generation holds the totality of expression of Christianity in and of itself. But, can we discount these foundational qualities as being "anti-Christian"? I fear that a blind and undiscerning disregard for the culture around us may be an unintentional denial of some great Christian qualities that will keep our next generation from experiencing the fullness of God. It is not easy. As one of my favorite philosophers said, "It is easier to die as a martyr than to live as a Christian in today's world."

Third, I believe this counter-cultural Christianity does not take seriously the incarnation. God the Son took on flesh. When he did, according to historic Christianity, God sanctified the material. We don't like that today, because it means some things in the world are actually good. God gave us food, provision, sustenance from the material world. He gave us the capacity to enjoy the pleasures of this material world (food, drink, sex, a walk in the park, fishing). We would rather condemn "things" of the world, which makes us feel better about being "Not of This World," all the while having no idea what it all means for our everyday living. It is easier to sit in the safety of the black and white than to walk in the fog of grey. In the Gospel of John--the same gospel where we find "not of this world"--we find the Word becoming flesh. This unifying principle of life (logos = word), the one that gives order and meaning to this world, precisely because it exists beyond it, is now condescending itself to that which it ordered and arranged. This is incarnation. And it is frustratingly not so black and white.

I suppose I could go on for a while. (I actually deleted several paragraphs already.) But for the sake of brevity, I stop. Next time I see that car in Amarillo, I will smile. And chuckle. And say a prayer for our Church.


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Amazing Love

Something amazing happened. Extraordinarily unexpected. This past Sunday in church.

Let’s start a few months ago, back in January. I received a call from one of our members, the patriarch of a large family, and I immediately knew it would not be a pleasant conversation. “Can I come and visit with you today?” Enough was said in his tone. Given the rocky road we’ve been through the past six months, I knew what was coming—another dissatisfied member, unhappy with the changes we are making, on the verge of leaving, if they hadn’t already decided that. He and his family were critical of me, and not shy about it. At the conclusion of one sermon series, he greeted me after church, “Boy, we sure are glad that series is over.” So, I knew what was coming.

He stepped into my office, sunk down into the sofa, and jokingly said, “See ya! We’re outa here.” I said nothing. After a moment, he began to explain. He and his family had some major concerns with the direction of the church, my leadership, the state of our worship, the fact that we are a United Methodist congregation, bespeckled with misperceptions. But it wasn’t his concerns that bothered me. It was how they were colored, how these concerns became imbued with spiritual accusations which may or may not have been a part of all this. For instance, at one point, he said, “We have not experienced God in worship since you have been here.” Ouch. That hurts. Tell me your concerns. I can deal with that. But don’t imply that I am not of God. Am I a tool of Satan? Am I holding back the ‘power of the Spirit’? What do I do with that? How do I answer that? As a man who secretly prides himself on being a man of integrity, guided by the Christian ethos set down in Scripture and handed on to us through generations of martyrs, I don’t think anything could have been said that would have struck more at the core of my being and the deepness of my heart. I was hurt, angry, frustrated. Internally, I was steaming from the fresh wounds inflicted upon me. I wanted to lash out, defend myself, lecture him on discernment, something to get back at him. I kept silent.

He left, us not having resolved anything. Surprisingly, the next Sunday they were in church. Every subsequent Sunday has been suspenseful. Would they be there? Have they left? And every Sunday they are present, I do not want to greet them. But I do. Every Sunday they arrive, I do not want to share the “love” of Christ with them, whatever that is supposed to mean anyway. But I am compelled to. I have held on to the words of the Psalmist, “Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him; do not fret over those who prosper in their way, over those who carry out evil devices. Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath. Do not fret—it leads only to evil.” (Psalm 37)

After communion this Sunday, as I was retreating from prayer back to my seat, I ran straight into the path of this man returning to his seat from the communion line. I did not want to look at him, but I knew it was inevitable. That “love” of Christ thing again! As I saw his face, there was something different in his eyes. He was holding back tears, some of which already graced his cheeks. He extended an arm for a handshake, and once I obligated mine, he pulled me close for a hug. “Thank you, Jon.” He tenderly and warmly spoke into my ear. Enough was said in his tone. “Thank you.”

I don’t know how to explain it. But it felt good. Not to have been redeemed from disgrace, per se, as if I am now the conqueror, the one who wins after all. Yes, that is a temptation I struggle with. Deeper down, however, it felt good to know that this man is growing, struggling with the same things every man does, and somewhere in the thick of life, he found gratitude, he found grace. And he offered some back. Praise you, O God, for your amazing love!

In Christ,