The Atheist’s Fatal Flaw – A Book Review

atheists fatal flawThe debate between Christians and Atheists has been ramped up in recent years with the emergence of some of the more vocal atheists such as Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins. In some ways, they have take to an evangelism approach towards the promotion of atheism. Despite their zeal for promoting the life of “unfaith,” Norman Geisler and Daniel McCoy have found what they consider to be a chink in the armor of their arguments, their thinking, and their ideology. In their book, “The Atheist’s Fatal Flaw,” Geisler and McCoy address the apparent discrepancies.

The authors introduce terms and ideas in the introduction, making sure that everyone is on the same page moving forward through the book. This is helpful as they continue to point back towards certain terms and ideas throughout the book, this provides a clear path forward to understand their arguments and rationale.

One of the terms that Geisler and McCoy use, borrowed from C.S. Lewis, is God-in-the-dock, the family of arguments used by atheists that put God on trial for defying or contradicting his own nature. Atheists have come to find God immoral for his lack of intervention and for his creation of less than perfect creatures.

As you move through this book, the Geisler and McCoy use arguments from the atheists themselves to build their case. Other than Hitchens and Dawkins, other known atheists from history past and present are used such as Carl Sagan, Friedrich Nietzsche, Bertrand Russell, among others. It’s helpful to see these arguments from those who oppose the idea of a Divine Creator in order to know how best to combat them. Geisler and McCoy do a sufficient job of providing these arguments from the other side and then they proceed to refute them.

The big case that Geisler and McCoy make against the atheists is that atheists seem to blame God for not intervening in the moral evils prevalent within the world yet they would be critical of any Divine Being who would come in and take away our autonomy. In many ways, the authors paint the picture of atheists that they are anti-authoritarian and refuse to give up their freedoms and autonomy. Geisler and McCoy also say that atheists have no problem with the intervention of humanity to solve the evils and woes of the world, which seems inconsistent considering that these same interventions would be immoral if used by God.

It seems that atheists want God to be made in their image (something that Christians can easily be accused of as well), being tolerant of all of the things that they are tolerant of, yet when they are in need, they want to be able to simply rub the magic lamp and have a “god” at their disposal, ready to fight for them. Over and over, based on the arguments that the authors present, it seems that the atheists in question are more averse to what God stands for rather than the idea of God at all.

Geisler and McCoy provide a good approach towards rebutting the arguments of the atheists using their own words. The book was a little slow to get into because of the need to set up the rest of it, but once I got into it, it moved along fairly quickly. Geisler and McCoy present their case in a fairly easily understood format, enabling even the novice thinkers to follow along. While all of the arguments seemed to be well laid out and thought through, I would have liked the conclusion of the book to have felt less abrupt than it was. In some ways, it felt as if they ran out of thoughts and ideas and just ended it, providing for more of a sudden stop rather than a gradual and summarizing conclusion.

Overall, it was a worthwhile read, especially for those who are new to the discussion with some of the more current atheists. Geisler and McCoy didn’t attempt to argue by simply lobbing Scripture at the arguments but by using the actual arguments presented by the atheists to begin with, a much more effective way to approach the argument.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Bethany House Publishers. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Why, Part 2

It’s funny how life can imitate art commentating on life.

Yesterday, with no hint of what the day would hold, I wrote a post called, “Why?” I never realized that by day’s end, I would find myself uttering that question and wondering about the timing of things in life.

My wife and I had been eagerly waiting to get the nickel tour of our former church from my father-in-law. He had done a good deal of work on their new building and had overseen a large portion of it as well, so I (as an engineer) was anxious to see and hear all about the building. We waited until after we had run some errands in the morning and after we had eaten lunch before we headed down for our tour.

While innocently driving in our minivan, three kids in the back, we were all shaken up a bit when a piece of flying debris shot from a State Department of Transportation lawnmower hit the back window next to my shattering it. We were literally hundreds of feet from our destination, the church parking lot. So, we pulled into another parking lot before getting to the church to assess the damage. Thank God for class that doesn’t shatter upon impact, otherwise, my son would have been injured badly.

After calling 911 and being told to call the DOT claims line, I walked down the street to find the man who had been driving the lawnmower to alert him of what had happened. He called his supervisor and the waiting game began.

All in all, while the shattered glass wasn’t pleasant, there were no injuries. The DOT should cover the cost of the window. I was able to spend more time with my brother who I don’t get to see very often. We were close enough to my in-laws that I was able to get the kids and my wife taken care of so that they didn’t have to wait with me. Not an ideal situation, but it could have been so much worse.

I half snickered and half cursed when I thought of my blog post from yesterday. I thought about the timing, even reminiscing about the beginning of the film “Magnolia” where all of these coincidences were described. I thought about how we had been delayed going down for our nickel tour of the church. I thought about how we happened to be passing that lawnmower on the other side of the road at just the right time when there was no traffic heading in the opposite direction to be hit with the debris. A few seconds earlier or later, we would have escaped without harm.

As I thought about the “why” of the situation, I had to ask myself, “What?” What was I supposed to be seeing in the midst of this? What was I supposed to be doing?

I’ll be honest, the town where it happened can kind of be uppity, if you know what I mean. Some of the people who live there are rich and have an incredible sense of entitlement. I thought about my own need to distinguish myself from someone like that. I was going to be as calm as possible with these guys. In turn, all of the DOT workers who I came in contact with were incredibly cordial and helpful to me. Again, not an ideal situation or one that I would have chosen to happen, but it could have been very different.

I also snickered as family and friends were alerted to this and began commenting about the “adventure” that seems to follow our family wherever we go. I think we can do without that sense of “adventure” for a little while. I’ll take boring for a season because my heart just can’t seem to take too much more “adventure.”

Like I said, there is a lot to be thankful for in the midst of the accident. Heck, it could have happened on the New Jersey Turnpike while we were 3 hours from home and 3 hours from our destination in Connecticut.

But it didn’t!

Yes, it would be easy to ask, “Why?” But would it be beneficial? I saw growth in myself, reacting in a different way than I might have years and even months ago.

I’m not sure why it seems that I’ve always got major lessons to learn. I guess I can chalk that up as another question to ask God when I see him. In the meantime, I’ll see what I can learn through these challenges. I’ll see if I can grow. I’ll see if I might react differently than I would have before. And that, quite possibly, could be the whole reason for all of this “adventure” in the first place.

Why?

Visiting with family in Connecticut, my wife’s sister came over to her parents, where we were staying, with her two boys, their ages corresponding with my boys but off a year so that our two pairs of boys make a successive four year sweep. They all get along well and my in-laws yard is full of adventure and excitement. My father-in-law, a general contractor, has sheds and gardens and tractors, things that mostly excite young boys, especially during summer when the world seems completely “open for business” for boys their age.

As I was lying on the bed, enjoying some time with no responsibility to catch up on the reading I haven’t done in forever, I began to hear a scream, nothing too unusual given the excitement that emerges when these four play together. My parental instinct was to first, determine whether it was a cry of pain and hurt and second, to determine whether that cry was emanating from one of my own children.

Once I realized it wasn’t my child (I breathed a short sigh of relief) and followed the sound to see what had happened. Turns out that my nephew had come across a bee that was none too happy with him. Whether he had stepped on its nest or had just thrown the insect off course from its usual business, it decided to repay him with a sting……and my nephew made it known what had happened.

As I walked into the den where the wounded child was being cared for by his mother, I was struck by the poor kid’s words. He kept saying, “Why?” over and over again. “Why did it sting me? I didn’t do anything to bother it.” My heart went out to my nephew and I began to think long and hard about those words and how often I had uttered them, or at least thought them, to myself.

In fact, I think I’ve done my best to avoid those words over the last few years. I’ve been faced with all kinds of things and my natural instinct is to curl up and cry, like my nephew, decrying against the injustice that’s taken place, proclaiming my own innocence in the midst of circumstances that seem to indicate my own guilt. Why? Why did this happen?

I’ve spent the better part of my adult life trying to allow for my theology to become more reformed (and transformed) from the distorted theology of my childhood. Maybe I had read too many Old Testament stories that had shaped my theology without enough grace. Maybe I had heard one too many sermons that had pointed me towards blaming someone for difficulties and tragedies that would occur. Regardless of its genesis, I had formed some theology in my mind which equated tragedies, trials, and difficulties with something that I had done. After all, bad things don’t just happen to good people, do they?

Ahhh, but yes they do. And if we allow ourselves to go there, we ask ourselves, “Why?” We want to know, like my nephew did, what had been done to deserve it. And the reason that I’ve done my best to avoid that question over the years is because we will always find a reason why we DON’T deserve it. We will always find ourselves innocent of anything worthy of such punishment. We will always wonder why us and not somebody else.

I so badly wanted to grab my nephew and tell him to get used to struggling with the injustice of it. The cynic in me would probably tell him to thank me at a later date, regardless of how I might have warped his theology and viewpoint. But I let him continue to cry and ask his mom why it had happened. He’ll come to it on his own one day, my cynicism need not encroach on his own formation.

But it was a reminder to me that, “Why?” isn’t always a good question to ask. More often than not, I’ve tried to shift the question from “Why” to “What.” What will be different from this? What can I learn? What can I make out of this injustice or trial or tragedy? More to the point, what can God make out of it?

When you do a funeral for a six month old who should have lived long past his parents, trite, comfortable, rehearsed answers seldom work the way that one might hope. When you are faced with a diagnosis that seems bleak and impossible, those same answers are likely to evoke bitterness and rage. When you survey the landscape of your life to find multiple tragedies coming on the heels of each other, trite answers will not suffice. In fact, answers, even well thought out ones, rarely assuage.

Why?

I don’t know……

Those three words have been among the most important ones that I have had to learn. They aren’t words that are easily acceptable or desirable, but they’re the only ones that can really bring any closure to the search.

Life brings with it bee stings and pains that cut deeper, physically and emotionally. What questions are you asking when you’re faced with those pains? I hope to understand more one day, but until then, my search can come up short. Faith upholds and strengthens, but it doesn’t always give adequate answers. God knows, and I know that, but sometimes, I just want to know too. I’m hoping that there will be a day when I will, but until then, I’ll just keep pressing on.

To Know and Be Known – Director’s Cut

I’ve asked 2 good friends and loyal readers to share their favorite blog posts.  Over the next few months, I will be sharing their thoughts and insights that they have shared with me regarding some of these posts.  I hope that what they share will add some new insights to some of my previous posts.

[Wanda writes: This post is really special to me because I am a part of a small group referred to as the “Yadas.” Translated (from the Hebrew it means), “to know and be known.” This group formed approximately 10 years ago with just a few members. Some have remained since inception and others have joined along the way, but it is obvious that no one is there by chance. It is our safe haven – a place where you are free to laugh, free to cry, and free to share your innermost thoughts. We all need to have a place like that. A small group of fellow believers in Christ is a great start, but it can’t stop there. We are called to take the things we learn within these groups and make a difference in our neighborhoods and beyond. We are called to not just be hearers of the Word but doers of the Word.]

I am part of a small group of people from my church that meets a few times a month. Over the last few months, I was fascinated to hear people share their stories with me and with each other. There really were no hard ground rules of what to share or how to share it, so it was pretty cool to see what people felt were the most important aspects of their lives to share with everyone. When I grew up, this idea of sharing stories of what God was doing and had done was called sharing one’s testimony, but I think we need to call it what it is, a story of how God has met them and how their lives have intersected with him.

One of the predominant themes that I have seen over and over as have interacted and ministered to and with people is our need for community. People who were not raised within the church talk about seeing something different in the people around them. They appreciated many other things, but there seemed to be an overwhelming need for community, for being known.

At the base of who we all are, I think one of the things that we all crave at our core is the need to be known and to know others. Surficial and shallow relationships can easily be found. Heck, social media can be a successful way of allowing us to think that we know others and are known by others while never making eye contact or engaging in a face to face conversation. That’s not to say that social media is wrong, but it acts as a cheap substitute if we fail to realize that relationships need to be built at a much deeper level than this. If the only relationships that we have are with people who only exist to us on a computer screen, we will begin to see it change us.

The church where I serve has been really good about creating a support structure for its pastors. Each pastor is given a group of three people who will come alongside them to encourage, support, and coach them along. In the nearly seven years that I have been with this group of people, I am on my third iteration of this group.

When I first met with my current group, they let me talk and I wandered all around, in a verbal sense, until the end of our meeting. At that time, the two who were there began to tell me some of their observations. I sat there and was stunned but grateful as they both began to describe me and articulate their own understanding of who I was. There was a sense of accomplishment and arrival for me as they talked, knowing that I had well articulated who I was but even more grateful that they had listened, observed, and acknowledged that I was who I said that I was.

I have had a number of people who I have worked for in past years who did not understand me. With a few engineering degrees and one theology degree under my belt, I also have an artistic side that people are more often exposed to than the analytical side of me. Getting into my head could prove frustrating and confusing for some people who like order and structure. While there is that side of me, the creative side of me rebels against it at times and I come across as flighty and aloof. For these guys who have been called to support me to see that and hear my own acknowledgement of my weaknesses in our first meeting together was a gift for me. I went home expressing to my wife my gratitude for these men who were willing to take time to enter into my story and try to understand me better.

There are few things more frustrating to me than being misunderstood, but understanding and being understood takes time. It is an investment that sometimes doesn’t seem to be worth the effort that it takes. Yet, when we take the time to invest, to listen, and to observe, we can help a person know that they are being known and being understood. We can help others see how valuable they are and know that there is at least someone out there who understands them on a deeper level than just what’s on the surface.

I am grateful for the people that have been placed in my life who understand me, who “get” me. I am sure that it hasn’t always been an easy ride for them to get to this point, but how thankful I am that they took the time to do this. As I think about them, it helps me to extend grace and show patience in taking the time to know and understand others. It’s an investment that I am not always willing to make, but I am growing, I am learning. To know and be known has been such an important part of my own growth, progress, and transformation and my hope and prayer is that taking the time to do that for others can be as equally beneficial to them as it has been when others have done that for me.

Heirs

My parents were not rich, but they were smart and frugal. For years, my mom would buy my brother and I clothes from a local thrift store. She did her best to make sure that we still managed to “fit in” among our peers. We never took lavish vacations but instead opted for family road trips to South Carolina, Chicago, Florida, and upstate New York. My father was almost obsessive about saving money so that he was safe and comfortable for retirement.

When my parents died, my brother and I didn’t quite become millionaires, but we inherited money that my parents had saved in the form of retirement funds, cash, and other investments. We were the heirs to the estate, inheriting everything that they had worked so hard for years to save. We hadn’t done anything to earn that money other than be born of my parents, yet we reaped the benefits of being their heirs.

In Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia, he talks to them of the fact that they are heirs of God. They inherit from the estate of God by being adopted to sonship. He tells them that they, and subsequently we, are no longer slaves but children and heirs of God. We receive an inheritance not because we have done anything but because we are God’s children.

It’s one thing to think about the inheritance that my brother and I received as natural born children of my mom and dad. It’s another thing to think about the inheritance that we receive as children of God because we were not naturally born into his family, we were adopted, chosen, selected to be part of that family, and because of that selection and adoption, we become heirs with Christ Jesus.

Too often, we can fall into the trap of thinking that we earn our salvation. But our adoption wasn’t because we made ourselves look good, in fact, while we were still separated from God, Christ died for us. We couldn’t make ourselves look good enough to be adopted, but by his grace, God chose to graft us into his family.

It’s always interesting to watch the fiasco that can play out when someone dies and all of the heirs come together to claim what they “rightfully” are due. It seems that people can become so selfish and self-consumed when it comes to something that they really didn’t earn to begin with. Multiple times over the past few years, my brother and I have talked about the fact that we would give all of the money back just to have Mom and Dad back again. The inheritance wasn’t something that we felt that we deserved, but there are so many people who will fight and bicker over their inheritance.

An inheritance is a gift given. Gifts aren’t usually deserved or earned, they are given as gifts because a person wants to be generous and loving. That is what our inheritance from God is…..a gift. We may act like we deserve it or are rightfully due it, but that’s not the case. It’s a gift and we need to be grateful for that gift.

This was a good reminder to me this morning. It was a humbling thought to help me remember that my inheritance was a gift for which I am grateful. I’ve done nothing and yet God has given me everything. That’s a thought that I can take with me through the rest of this day.

The List

It seems that most people that I talk to who have faith in God have a list. Now, I’m not sure whether it’s a real list or if it’s a list that they’ve compiled in their brains, but this list is purported to be made up of all of the questions that they plan to ask God when they come face to face with him. Somehow, I get the feeling that there might be somewhat of an overwhelming feeling when that actually happens, causing them to forget the list if it’s simply stored within their heads. So, I think I’ll write mine down.

My anger with God rises and falls and I have to face it from time to time, acknowledging its presence and coming face to face with the grim reality that although I believe in him, I still struggle with the decisions (or seeming indecisions) that he makes at times. I struggle with his blatant ignoring of requests to intervene in the areas of peace, hunger, cancer, and many other issues and situations that seem to impact us all. Of course, his hand is at work, but I don’t always see it and in the midst of my own selfishness, I struggle.

On the heels of the third anniversary of my mother’s death, I was hit with the news that another saint breathed her last after succumbing to cancer…….and I was angry.

I was angry not so much that God hadn’t healed her but that she got sick in the first place. The same could be said of my mom, my anger stemmed more towards the sickness coming at all and not so much at the “not being healed” part. More importantly, again from a selfish standpoint, I was frustrated not so much by what was gone but by what was left behind. It’s always seemed the case, to me, that those we wish would stick around end up leaving far too soon.

And if we’re honest with ourselves, there might even remain some of those whom we kind of wish had been taken. Don’t gasp in horror! If you are REALLY honest with yourself, you know exactly what I’m talking about, those people who seem to be fueled by piss and spite, those who seem to take vindictiveness, criticism, and bitterness to a new level of super villain proportions. In fact, I’ve often wondered whether scientific experiments had been performed on these individuals to see if all of this spite and bitterness has acted as a kind of preserving agent, like formaldehyde, prolonging their departure from this world while the rest of us suffer.

But the sweet, gentle, loving saints seem to leave us behind, asking questions, scratching our heads, compiling our lists.

The Psalms have often been a solace and resting place for me in my time with God. My mom showed me a method of getting through them all within a month’s time and it has stuck with me for years since. Their raw honesty and forthrightness remind me that God can handle honesty, disappointment, and even anger. The question is what do we do with those things once we discover that they’re there.

While taking a preaching class in seminary, I preached a sermon on Psalm 131. It’s a very short Psalm, only 3 verses, but those 3 verses struck me in a powerful way, particularly the first verse, “My heart is not proud, Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.”

After listening to his friends ponder what might have brought upon his recent clash with disaster, Job continued to believe in God. When God finally spoke to Job, he asked him where he had been while God was laying the foundations of the world. In many ways, Psalm 131:1 seems to remind me of the same thing, that God is in control and his ways are not my ways, that his knowledge is higher than mine and I just can’t understand. His ways are too wonderful for me, but it doesn’t always stop me from trying to understand them……..and coming up short pretty much every time.

Yes, a saint has left this world and another one of God’s children has entered his eternal kingdom. It doesn’t change my disappointment, but it does help me to keep things in perspective. We continue here on earth with hope of the resurrection. We don’t always like it, we’re not always happy with it, but we know that there are some things that are just too wonderful for us to know. I guess I’ll just have to keep adding to that list.

Thinking Too Highly of Yourself

Have you ever been around someone who thinks too highly of themselves? You know the type, they walk around as if they are God’s gift to the world, as if their absence from this world would create a huge gap for the rest of us. And, if we’re really honest with ourselves, we actually might be those people, walking around as if the world would stop spinning if we stopped living.

One of the beautiful things about the Bible, to me, is that the truth it conveys makes sense regardless of whether or not you believe everything that’s written within it. Now, don’t get me wrong, I believe what it says, but if you’re reading this and you aren’t there yet, I still think that there’s wisdom that you can hear and receive from it, even if you aren’t at the point of full belief yet.

The Apostle Paul, when he was writing to the church in Rome, wrote in Romans 12:3, “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” Paul was promoting a healthy sense of humility for all, a self-image that doesn’t elevate one’s self so much as seeing one’s self in light of a bigger picture.

For followers of Christ, that bigger picture is the body of Christ, the incarnation of Christ to the world in the form of the Church. Each of us brings what we have to the table and puts it together with what God has given to others. Combine that with the power that God gives us through the Holy Spirit and we’ve got a winning combination……but it’s just that, a combination. A combination is what you get when 2 or more pieces are combined. It’s kind of like that cartoon in the 1980s “Voltron” where the individual robots came together to form one giant robot. The individual robots were fine and good by themselves, but together, they kicked serious butt!

I’ve been in a place of major humbling lately. It seems that God is trying to teach me this lesson of not thinking of myself too highly than I ought. It’s a difficult place to come to where you can honestly see that your presence and gifts are not essential for achieving and completing the work of God. It’s very arrogant to think that the God of the universe really NEEDS you to accomplish his work.

But once you come to that place where you realize that you are not essential but chosen, it’s a freeing thought. No, God doesn’t NEED me to accomplish his work, but he certainly wants me. He’s gifted me with what I have and then calls me to be part of the bigger plan and picture. When I accept that call, it’s a privilege, not a right, and I need to see it that way. When I do, it can make all the difference in the world for my own self-perception.

Part of the idea of “dying to myself” daily is just this: to realize that I shouldn’t think too highly of myself. It’s a process, sometimes slow and wearisome. I fight, I kick, I resist, but when I finally begin to understand it, when I finally begin to catch on, it’s not self-deprecating, dehumanizing, or demeaning, it’s actually energizing and invigorating.

Here’s to hoping that I continue to learn this lesson.

Mom

I realized irene and jon - carrie and jon weddingthis morning that there are many people who have come to this blog within the last 3 years.  Having done that, they never read all about my mom which had been posted at my previous blog site.  So, as I sat and contemplated this morning, I figured that I would share what I posted over there nearly 3 years ago to help readers to better understand what I am talking about when I mention my mom, how much she meant to me, and the deep hole that I feel in my heart at her absence.

After a nearly 6 month battle with pancreatic cancer, my mother, Irene Gibson, passed away on July 19, 2011. This is what I read at her funeral:

There aren’t many 38 year old men who would stand up in public and say that their mom is one of their best friends. Yet I stand here today and say that without a doubt, my mom has always been one of the most important people in my life and among my best friends. The relationship that we have shared together is unique and special and it’s the same relationship that I wish for my boys to have with their mother.

I think that my mom always secretly wished that she had at least had one little girl. It was just my brother and me, I don’t think she ever wanted anymore than us two. God knows that we were probably more than enough for her to have to deal with as well. In some ways, I guess I became the daughter that she never had as we formed a relationship between mother and son that probably better resembled the relationship that some mothers have with their daughters.

Whenever something significant happened in my life, whether it was good or bad, exciting or depressing, there were always two people that I would call: my wife and my mother. My mom always listened, interjecting where she felt necessary. She shared in my joy or in my sorrow. When I would shed tears, so would she. When I would laugh, so would she. I always knew that whenever I made a phone call to her, she would join me and come alongside me, wherever I was. My love of the Psalms, reliance on prayer, and knowledge of Scripture are a result of my Mom’s fervent prayer and instruction.

I always knew what silence on the other end of the phone meant as well. Our family has always been honest with each other, no exceptions. My mom learned this from her family and it’s a trait that all of my aunts and uncles share. Honesty has been our best policy, speaking truth to each other, regardless of how difficult it is, has always helped our family survive. When my mom didn’t agree with something that I said, I would know pretty quickly that was the case.

My mom grew up with a stern father and a mother who was a rock, sweet and loving, but resilient. My uncle was a marine, another uncle a pastor. My mom’s two sisters, one older and one younger, also learned the strength and resiliency that my mom learned. Her sister, Marge, learned resiliency through life experience in the loss of her first husband. My grandfather, after being abusive with his wife and children, finally gave his life to Christ and became a different person, enjoyable and fun.

Mom has been the epitome of servanthood and unconditional love to me, my brother, my dad, and our family. She has always sacrificed herself for whatever would be best for her husband and sons. She might not have always been happy about it, but it never really showed. She would silently forge on, continuing to love and serve in the way that Christ instructed us to love and serve, with all of our hearts, minds, souls, and strength.

Wherever she went, whatever she did, Mom exuded the love of Christ. She worked in the Darien Public School system for over 20 years as a teacher’s aide. All of the teachers that she worked with were thrilled to have her as their aide. She went above and beyond what they expected and was always an incredible encouragement and support to them. I would hear of many of them whenever we talked on the phone, hearing about the things that were happening in their lives and the ways that my mom was praying for them, in hopes that they too would know the life-changing love of Jesus Christ. In fact, one of the last people to see Mom alive was a teacher that she had worked with in Darien who had just had a baby last month. Mom had been praying for both mother and child and was so excited for this baby’s arrival.

In November of 2010, my parents left Calvary Baptist Church in Darien, CT after serving there for more than 36 years. They left a sense of security and familiarity to step out into the unknown. They moved down to Williamsburg, VA to be close to my mom’s sister, Audrey, and brother-in-law, Roy, as well as me, my wife, and their grandsons. Life changed dramatically on January 31, 2011 when my mom was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

In the six months that followed, we journeyed through cancer’s roller coaster ride, the ups and downs of hope and dread. As we waited on God to direct us in next steps, it still seemed that Mom was willing to pursue whatever everybody else might have wanted her to pursue. Every step we took, Mom would walk in resiliency and faith. While she expressed her fears now and then, we also shared together the hope in Jesus Christ that believers share together. Mom’s body had been breaking down for years, she always looked forward to the day when all things would be made new again.

Mom’s desire throughout her journey through cancer was that she not be a “wimp.” Just like her Marine brother who battled cancer before her, she wouldn’t let it get the best of her, and if it did, she wouldn’t let anyone but those close to her see. When she was a little girl, whenever she would get hit with the belt, she would defiantly tell her parents, “That didn’t hurt” and would stand strong, willing herself to not cry. She faced this cancer with the same defiance. In fact, the night before she went into the hospital for the last time, although she was tired and not feeling good, she went to her sister and brother-in-law’s to celebrate their anniversary, followed by a big bowl of frozen yogurt over at Sweet FROG’s in New Town.

But Mom’s resilience was not something that came simply from within herself. Her reliance was on Christ Jesus, the One who had suffered and died for the redemption of the world. As I spent hours with her in her last days, I looked on her nightstand to find this prayer, based on Isaiah 61, written out in her own hand:

Lord, anoint me with the oil of gladness instead of mourning, bestow on me a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. May I be a planting of the Lord for the display of Your splendor.

Mom was truly what she had prayed, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor. I am reminded of Jesus’ words in the Gospel of John, “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” The seed of my mother has died, but what remains is in the life that was planted in others and the example of faith that she shared with all those around her. She was truly one who gave her life for others as an example of Jesus Christ and she is now experiencing eternal life with him.

In some ways, my mom’s wish to have a girl was fulfilled when my brother and I got married. She was always thrilled to have two daughters-in-love, as she would call them, who have supported, encouraged, and loved her sons. Mom welcomed both Karen and Carrie into her family the way that she would welcome two daughters of her own. A few weeks before my mom was diagnosed with cancer, my wife, Carrie, and I found out that we were expecting a third child. Already having two boys, we decided to not let this baby be a surprise, in the off chance that it actually might be a girl. Sure enough, the ultrasound confirmed that it’s a girl.

Mom had a bucket list of things that she would be able to experience. One of those was to see her first granddaughter and hold her. The girl that she had longed for would finally come through her son. When this little girl finally arrives, she will be named Chloe Irene Joy Gibson, in honor of her grandmother. Carrie and I pray that she might grow up in the legacy that her grandmother left, loving and serving Jesus, her family, and everyone that she comes into contact with.

One of the other things Mom wanted to see was me finally graduate from seminary with my Master’s of Divinity degree. She knew how hard I had been working and always told me how proud of me she was. I laughed at the fact that my preaching magically improved in her eyes as soon as I entered seminary. Whenever I would call her and update her on my grades and progress, she would always say, “I don’t know how you do it.” I have always been able to do it because of the example that she set for me, never relying completely on myself, but relying on the strength that I am given from the One who saves me.

Not only did Mom have a list of things that she wanted to experience herself but she had a list of things that she wanted others to do as well, particularly me and my brother. My wife and I recently celebrated 10 years of marriage and from the day that we were married until a week ago, I grew my hair long. Having already had to endure long hair with my brother, my mom was none too happy about me growing my hair. So every chance that she got to ask me when I was cutting my hair, she would do it.

This past Saturday, after I left my house in Mechanicsville, I went right to the hair salon and told them to cut it all off. I wanted Mom to see her little boy with the haircut that she had been wanting him to have before she passed from this life.

For my brother it was different. Mom was a fervent prayer warrior and she prayed for years and years that my brother would return to the faith that had been instilled in him early in his life. Although others might have given up on him, Mom prayed continuously. She would often quote 3 John 1:4 to me, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” Her greatest desire was that she would be united with her children when we all stand before Jesus, face to face. Thankfully, Mom was able to see this and experience this in the last months that she had even before she was diagnosed. As usual, Mom’s persistence had the last word.

For my dad, she wanted him to be okay and to make it. He’s had a rough time since he retired in November, dealing with more life transitions and change than someone half his age could deal with. In the last week, my father has stepped up to the plate and risen to the occasion in the midst of adversity. As difficult as it has been, he’s held himself high and done what he needed to do for Mom. I am proud of him, Steve is proud of him, and I am sure Mom would have been proud of him too.

I have a frame on my desk that my mom made for me. She wrote out Luke 1:14, “He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth.” She would quote that verse to me often, especially after I became a pastor. She always wanted me to know how proud she was of me. Mom has left a legacy in her husband, her children, her grandchildren, and every single person whose life she has touched.

2 Timothy 4:6-8 says, ” 6 For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” These words of Paul, that he spoke to Timothy as his life came to an end are the same words that I encouraged Mom with as she neared the end of her life. Mom taught us how to live, love, and laugh, but she also taught us how to die. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that there will be for her a crown of righteousness. She has fought the good fight, she has finished the race, she has kept the faith. Her legacy will live on and I know we will meet again, in a place where cancer can no longer ravage the body, where tears are wiped away, and where we will worship Jesus, the One who gave himself up for us, forever. I love you, Mom.

Better Together [Director’s Cut]

I’ve asked 2 good friends and loyal readers to share their favorite blog posts.  Over the next few months, I will be sharing their thoughts and insights that they have shared with me regarding some of these posts.  I hope that what they share will add some new insights to some of my previous posts.

[Lesley writes: I reread this post several times, because…I felt as if Jon was writing it about and for just me! Honestly before I allowed myself to accept God and faith into my life I felt very much alone, and secluded myself from others. At a young age my parents divorced. My mom returned to the work force and went to school in the evenings. She was doing the best she could but the women she hired to care for me were not particularly loving or kind. From ages five to seven we had a woman watch me that used to beat me consistently with belts or shoes. Thus my protective shell and tendency towards distrust of almost everyone. Honestly I believe it wasn’t until I came to Christ that I felt worthy as a human being for any kind of emotional connection and deep love. This blog post confirms that we, as human beings, need each other. We can’t do this thing called life alone. God’s most treasured gifts to us are through our relationships with others.]

We weren’t made to be alone. No, I’m not saying that to promote the end of singleness. I’m saying it because we are relational creatures, made in the image of God to be with one another. The moment that we begin to sequester ourselves from others is the minute that we not only begin to set ourselves up for a fall, but also when we live out of sequence with the intention of the One who created us.

You can learn an awful lot by watching your kids. My 2 oldest kids are only 23 months apart from each other. While we have had our fair share of challenging days, we’ve also begun to see the benefits of the natural relationship that forms over time with the two of them.

While my wife was putting our youngest to bed on an evening when I had a meeting, she left the 2 older children downstairs to occupy themselves quietly. After successfully getting the youngest one to sleep, my wife returned downstairs to find that the oldest had chosen a movie, loaded it into the DVD player, set everything up, and even brought his brother a snack for the movie-watching experience. What a pleasant surprise takes place when your kids are actually learning some of the things that you have been trying to teach them all along.

When I made an anniversary video for my wife for our 10th anniversary, I used Jack Johnson’s song “Better Together” as one of the background songs. Over the course of 10 years, my wife and I were constantly reminded that we do things better together. We get more done cooperatively and we have fun in the process, especially if it’s a task that we’re not necessarily crazy about doing on our own.

We weren’t made to be alone. The wisest man in the world understood this when he wrote in Ecclesiastes, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”

We can find countless stories within the Bible of what happens to people when they spend too much time alone (the story of David and Bathsheba comes to mind). I’m not recommending that all of the introverts of the world rebel against their natural tendencies to be reserved and quiet, but I am recommending that we come to the realization that we need each other. We need support. We need encouragement. We need prayer. We need loving arms. We need sturdy shoulders. We need each other.

We are a gift to each other, given by God not to selfishly consume, but to lovingly and graciously give. That’s what Jesus did. I can’t imagine the number of times that he would probably have liked to tell the disciples to just leave him alone so that he could have a few moments of peace, but instead, he loved them and gave himself to them. What am I doing to give of myself to others? My children? My wife? My friends? The people who need me most? What am I doing to live out the truth that we are better together?

Fans, Feedback, and Freedom

This blog has not exactly gone viral, which is fine for me. I didn’t start writing out of a need to be needed or a deep desire to become famous. While I would love to write a book at some point, writing is therapeutic for me, it helps me process and, for the last few years, grieve. Along the way, I’ve picked up some fans, or at least followers, who are fairly regular at reading my blog. I appreciate them greatly.

Feedback is an important part of writing as well, and I do my best to hear and listen to the feedback that I’ve gotten. More often than not, my blog gives me a place to process feedback that I have received in a more expansive format. I have had so many conversations which have turned into thoughts which have turned into blog posts. I appreciate feedback, especially from those who I know are looking at for my best interests. I’ve learned a ton from all of that feedback that I’ve received.

I’ve always tried to stay current and deal with current issues while also dealing with my own issues (of which there are probably a lot). There are some days that I write and I think that what I’ve written is brilliant, only to see that no one else agrees. Other days, when I write out of obligation rather than deep desire and emotion, it seems that I strike a chord and lots of people read. I’ll say this for blogging, it certainly keeps you humble. Anytime that you think that you’ve got it figured out, you better think again.

Part of the joy of this blog is the freedom that I have to share what I feel led to share. I have been so grateful for that freedom and grateful for all of those readers who have benefited from what I have shared. While I write book reviews on occasion and post them on this blog, I enjoy reading and love the fact that I can read and write about what I’ve just read. The freedom to share has been a great benefit of this blog for me.

Last year, a fellow blogger and friend of mine from seminary asked for those who were regular readers of his blog to offer up their favorite posts of his in order to revisit some reader’s favorites. I was one of the contributors as I have always watched and read his work with admiration for his level of brilliance and intellectuality. His pursuit sparked the idea in me and I have asked two faithful readers to contribute some of their thoughts and share their favorite blogs for me to share.

So, I will be reposting those blogs with their comments every Friday for the next few months. I hope that these posts and their insights will speak to you as they did to me. It’s always good to write, it’s even better to know that your writing is being read and used to speak to others. I am blessed to have had the opportunity that I have had and look forward to hearing more comments from those who read.

As always, thank you for taking the time to read. What I write comes from my heart and I am glad to share it, especially when what is shared connects to someplace deeper inside of you, the reader.

Cheers!