A Tribute to Dr. Dean Griffin

What does a life look like that is trying to follow in the footsteps of Jesus? The short answer is that the life lived is a reflection of the image of God-the very image in which each human being is created; in the image of God.

Recently a good family friend passed away. Dean and his family were always a part of our family. Like other close families, we did life together. Growing up, the Griffins always stopped by on Christmas afternoon, for the annual Easter egg hunt, and summer family barbecues, to name but a few occasions. Dean’s family took me skiing in Canada. It is because his family hosted a French AFS student that Cora and I became lifelong best friends. Our family stories are intertwined.

Dean was a jokester and he talked to everyone around him, to include every waitress and nurse who cared for him. For Dean there were no strangers. Some called it flirting, but it was so much more. Dean was really about the person with whom he was talking. Dean cared about people. He listened to their stories. He was curious. So much so that his family hosted two exchange students. He loved people, and he loved life. (Ok, and he loved The Turtle, too.)

Dean had a life call on his heart to care about people. For that very reason he started teaching, and eventually became a family physician. Who knows how many patients Dean walked beside? Who knows how many he cared for? Yet in all his caring for people, in all his talking with “strangers,” Dean was reflecting the image of his maker, The Great Physician.

You see, there is another one who cared for people, One who was an abiding presence with humanity; none other than God in the flesh, Jesus the Christ. Jesus is the one who taught us to abide with each other, the one who taught us to care for each other, the one who taught us to serve each other, the One who taught us what love looks like.

Jesus washed the feet of his disciples and said, “Go and do likewise.” (John 13:15) In that same chapter Jesus tells us to love one another as he has loved. This is servant love, this is self sacrificing love, known as agape love. “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” ( John 13:35)

Dean sacrificed of his time and of himself as he served others; on call as a physician, on the high school football team sidelines as team doctor, in numerous service clubs, for his community, and his family. His wife, kids, and grandkids were the apple of his eye. He cared for people he did not know by talking with them, listening, and learning their stories. He was an abiding presence in his community of Westminster and beyond.

Dean was not perfect, no human is sinless. But he followed the Perfect One who taught us how to love by offering himself on a cross for you and for me, to take our sins and imperfections upon himself, so that a gateway beyond this life would be open, and a future hope and promises by the God of all creation can be realized.

It is a gift to grow up in community who cares for each other. I am grateful that God brought our life paths together, and grateful for the gift of love and friendship that Dr. Dean Griffin and his family brought to my family and me. And, I am grateful that Dean followed in the footsteps of his Maker, reflecting the image of God in which he was created.

Growing in our Relationship with Jesus

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She can read!

My eldest granddaughter is an emergent reader. Recently we were on vacation together, sitting in a tourist tram, and I asked her to read the words in the front of the tram. I waited, figuring I would have to help her with the more difficult words. Yet, slowly but surely, she read the entire sentence! “Come as guests, leave as friends.” I was surprised, yet excited for her.

It is a thrill to watch this 5 year old have a new world open up to her as she grows in her ability to read. New opportunities are now at her fingertips.

I realized the same is true of us in our relationship with Jesus. When our knowledge of God moves from head knowledge to heart knowledge, an entire new world opens up to us. When we realize that Jesus, God in the flesh, desires nothing less than a personal relationship with each of us, we begin to see and understand that new opportunities are available to us. Those opportunities were available all along, but now they can grow and be nurtured in new ways, because Jesus has just become real to us.

Just as my granddaughter is an emergent reader, so, too, many of us are emergent followers of Jesus. We are just discovering what lies ahead. She has to continue pressing on to read well, and we have to press on, in the words of Paul, to grow in our faith. This is a time to continue your discoveries. This is a time to seek out growth, seek out going deeper in this relationship with Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of Life. What are you doing today to help you grow in your relationship with Jesus?

And, if you are one who has not discovered this reality, that Jesus is real and wants a relationship with you, this can be a time to seek him out, to allow emergent discoveries to become a reality in your life.

Just as my granddaughter is discovering that reading is so exciting, you will be amazed at the exciting path that lies before you when you allow Jesus to be central in your life.

Slowing DOWN for Advent

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The tree limbs are bare, the rocks look cold as they stand watch over the valley. The change of season has arrived. Some of us are struggling with the shorter season of light, some of us are wondering if the kids will ever settle down, some of us are filled with grief as the holidays are approaching because our situation has changed, others of us are busy with the hustle of the Christmas season. Whatever it is, it seems like the Christmas season has been filled with everything except Jesus. Enter in the season of Advent.

Advent is this beautiful gift that gives us pause–Advent helps us slow down. Advent means “the coming,” and we remember both that which has historically happened in the birth of Jesus, and we look forward to that which is to come; Jesus promised that he would come again.

Advent gives us pause to remember the words of the prophets who remind us that God will be with us, and remind us that God’s word will be fulfilled, “..So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11) John’s gospel reminds us that Jesus is the living word. Jesus is the word made flesh, Immanuel, God with us, God who became one of us.

So what does this season of Advent mean for you and for me? We have been given a “pause button.” We have been given an opportunity in Advent to look more deeply. Maybe this is a time for you to pause by spending some time with God in reading the word, or spending some time praying for the promise of Jesus to come again, or maybe this can be a season of inviting the Holy Spirit to give gifts for the building of God’s Kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven.” Whatever it may be, know that we are given this season as a gift to grow in our relationship with the One who became flesh.

The cookies, gift buying, card sending can wait, use the pause button of Advent to preparing your heart for the One who is, and who was, and who is yet to come again. The tree limbs are bare from leaves, but our hearts can be opened wide for the coming of the Christ Child once again.

What is your favorite way to pause in Advent? Here is a song that might help in your pause.

The Broken Angel Wing

The Broken Angel Wing

angelThe angel was given to me by the family of a dear friends of mine who passed away this year. No sooner did the angel come into my possession than her wing broke off. At first I was devastated, this was part of Phil and Norma’s collection that had been gifted to me, and I remember well the years they had collected these figurines, especially the angels that played horn. But, as I reflected on the broken wing it occurred to me that we all have brokenness in one way or another. Maybe this broken wing was a reflection of who we all are as created beings. Do angels get broken wings?

I cannot answer if angels get their wings broken, but I do know that we humans know brokenness. Humans have brokenness all around us. These days it seems that everywhere we turn we have hurt or loss or health issues or unwanted changed situations. Change is hard, brokenness is hard.

And yet, we also know that even in the midst of brokenness and broken wings, we can look to the God who created us who says, “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:19) Even now while we are in these 12 days of Christmas we remember the light of Jesus Christ that has come into the darkness, and “the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5)

For me, this broken wing has become a symbol of hope in the darkness. This has become a symbol to remind me that God cares for all of the created order of the universe; humans, angels, those who have gone before us, and the earth and all that is in it. God cares for us in the midst of our brokenness, loss and changed situations.

God cares for you too. There might be hurt, there might be a broken wing or two, but God still empowers us to fly in new and unexpected ways.

As we look towards the new year, may you be able to see hope in a new ways in spite of broken wings, and remember that God has new ways of teaching us how to fly.

Camino de Santiago ~ Lessons Learned ~ Overcoming Fear

Camino de Santiago ~ Lessons Learned ~ Overcoming Fear

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Courageous living is a learned art. The opposite of courage is fear. Fear stops us in our tracks. Fear can prevent us from going forward, fear can literally prevent us from being all that God created us to be. How do we overcome fear and learn to live courageously?

Walking the Camino de Santiago has helped many people face their fears head-on. It has empowered people with courage when they were filled with fear of the unknown. Just taking the “steps” to walk the Camino is in and of itself a huge leap in overcoming fear. The potential fears one faces are too numerous to list: Fear of not being physically able to do the walk, fear of meeting people, fear of not meeting people, fear of the mountains, fear of what is around the corner, fear of not speaking the language, fear of not finding a nearby restroom, fear of not finding a place to sleep, fear of not being able to sleep in a crowded room, fear of sharing too much, fear of sharing too little. The list is exhausting.

We see so many parallels in our daily lives of the fears that we might also face. Yet, when we look at the list, we are reminded that fear in and of itself is something that can be conquered. It is not conquered by our own might, but rather it is conquered by the power of the Holy Spirit working and and through us, and moving forward with the help of God by our side, into courageous living.

Walking the Camino takes courage, and it empowers us to face that which is unknown–because we are practicing facing the unknown with every step. It is often the future of the unknown that grips us in fear. Getting up every day and walking into the unknown is one way of moving forward even in the midst of uncertainty. It is a way we have of letting everything else go, and trusting that God can care for the rest, while we put one foot in front of the other.

Daily life also gives us opportunities to walk into the unknown. How can we, too, put one foot in front of the other in moving forward? The reality is that every day, no matter how routine it might seem, has us facing the unknown. Today is different than the next day will be. We do not know what will be around the corner, but we do know that God promises to walk with us.

Here are some steps that can be helpful in letting go of our fear, worries and anxieties of the unknown:

  1. Name your fear, anxiety or worry. Acknowledge it before God.
  2. Self-awareness. What are you saying to yourself about this fear? How can you change your own self-chatter.
  3. What are others saying about your fear, how can you block them out or take a different path from the nay-Sayers?
  4. What does God say about your fear?
  5. Confess your fear to a few trusted friends and before God.
  6. Have people of faith pray over you and for you.
  7. Chose a passage of Scripture that will be your new mantra before God. (Maybe Psalm 46, Psalm 71, Psalm 121, Romans 8:37, Joshua 1:6)
  8. Trust that God is faithful to God’s promises of never leaving us, of walking with us, and of a future that we cannot see.

Maybe you will not be walking the Camino in the near future, but where can you walk or sit and meditate on these things? God empowers us through the Holy Spirit to put one foot in front of the other to move into a new future, a new possibility, a new paradigm and overcome our fears and past hurts.

Here is a song by Casting Crowns that speaks to me in my moments of fear and worry.

You can find many of these ideas stated in our sermon series entitled, “Time Out.” Find the message speaks of courage in the midst of fear here.

Camino de Santiago ~ Lessons Learned ~Kindness and Hospitality

Camino de Santiago ~ Lessons Learned ~Kindness and Hospitality

My time on the Way of Saint James is already fading into memory. The lessons learned, however, are something that I am trying to apply on a daily basis. One of the basic practices on the Camino is the practice of hospitality and kindness. Wikipedia says that “Kindness is a behavior marked by ethical characteristics, a pleasant disposition, and a concern for others. It is known as a virtue, and is recognized as a value in many cultures.” kindness and hospitality go hand in hand.

This seems like a basic idea, but unfortunately, where I live in North America, the practice of kindness and real hospitality is slowly disappearing. It seems like people are too busy, and too wrapped up in “self” to pay attention to “other life travelers.” Theologian William Barclay once said, “More people have been brought into the church by the kindness of real Christian love than by all the theological arguments in the world.” Hospitality, for the most part, is alive and well practiced on the Camino de Santiago.

Hospitality, the practice of caring for another person, has been part of the Christian heritage since the beginning of the Hebrew Bible. One of my favorite stories of hospitality is in Genesis 18 when Abraham is visited by the three strangers. He offered hospitality and discovered that he was entertaining the ambassadors of God.

My experience on the Camino was filled with hospitality, welcome and wonder. Small gestures empowered those of us who were pilgrims to go the distance. First, there was the language barrier itself. I do not speak Spanish, I wish I did. While I have a few words under my belt, there were many times when a shop owner or someone I met in the street would patiently try to help me out, in spite of the language barrier. I saw more than one shop keeper go outside of their shop and show directions to an inquiring pilgrim.

The host at the Auberge in Saint Jean Pied de Port was another one who went out of his way. He and his wife not only made us dinner, for a small fee, but they had all of their guests share some of their story. That evening the owners turned us into family, which was a gift as we began our walk on the Camino. All along the route we would run into other “members of the family” from our first night; that all happened due to great hospitality.

The man collecting garbage in Pamplona exhibited another act of kindness when he called to me and my walking friend asking, “Are you pilgrims?” We replied yes, and he told us we had missed the turn a block beyond where we were. He went out of his way to ensure we would not get lost.

Or, there was the woman who sold me an orange in the heat of the day, and she came outside of her shop where I was sitting to ask if the orange was good! (Yes, it was delicious.) Over and over again, from the ones who hosted in the hostels to the food servers to the law enforcement riding their horses in the Basque country, people went out of their way to be kind.

Another hostel is run by the English Society of the Way of Saint James. Volunteers come there to serve for two weeks at a time. They volunteer to run the place, and they offer to massage sore feet as well! There are hostels that run just from the donations you are willing to give, and others that help you all make a meal together. Hospitality is astounding and welcoming.

 We have lost this art of hospitality in the busyness of our societies. While it is true that some say walking the Camino is like living in a bubble, we can at least take these lessons learned and apply them to become changed lives in our own neighborhoods and work places. In order to make these part of our daily routine, we have to slow down, and take time to talk to people, and hear their stories.

The very of nature of exhibiting kindness to another person makes that person have a sense of worth and usefulness. By exhibiting kindness to another person we are affirming their worth as a person, we are telling them that they are important enough for us to be inconvenienced, by them or that we would give them special attention. It is also closely related to being gentle.

Jesus modeled the practice of welcoming the stranger and the practice of hospitality to those who felt unwelcome, and unworthy. How can we bring this practice back into our own lives? I think a challenge is in order. What would it look like to “outkind” your friend, or your family members? What would it look like to have a “kindness contest” on a regular basis? I believe we can change the course of our future by offering hospitality and kindness, and it can begin with us. Where can you begin to plant those seeds of kindness?

Camino De Santiago ~ Learned Lessons-1

Camino De Santiago ~ Learned Lessons-1

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(Above, descent from the iron cross~ season, late May.)

It has been three months since my return from El Camino. While the time spent there seems so distant, it also seems so near. Perhaps, that too, is a life reflection. As we get older and wiser, it seems that our “childhood days” were just yesterday, when in reality, it is usually much farther away. How can we put the brakes on so that we can enjoy the moment that we are experiencing? One way, is to take “time out”, such as a walk on the Camino de Santiago.

It is long since overdue the areas of wisdom that I learned from my hike on El Camino. Each learning point will have a separate post. In each case, I also preached about the correlation between my own learnings during the journey and the story of the Israelites’ deliverance from slavery in Egypt. Here is the first sermon on lesson’s learned called, “Time Out.”

One of the first things that I relearned is that life is about the journey. So often we are eager to get to the next “thing” in our lives. We are eager to finish this class, we are eager to get our license, we are eager to graduate, we are eager to start our career, we are eager to get married, have kids or retire. How can we simply enjoy the present moment, and the people whom God has placed in our path to enjoy?

In my own life I am constantly on the run. One of the things I have been trying to do in this year is be an “abiding presence” with the people who are around me. I am not always successful, but at least I am trying. El Camino helped me to slow down and enjoy the people around me. The people around me were fascinating and engaging. They came from all over the world. Each life encounter truly was a treasure. For me, I was intentional about the experience of walking the Camino. I did not need to finish, I did not need to be first each day, I was intent on the experience. Not everyone walking felt that way. Some wanted to go as far as they could each day, others wanted to be first. I just wanted to “be.” In fact, I rarely used my I Phone headset as I wanted to hear the sounds of the Camino. You can hear and see a four minute sound byte of the Camino here at this recording I made. (Honestly, the cuckoo bird’s call makes me laugh.)

After my walk, I am more convinced than ever that God wants us to learn lessons on our life journey. God places people in our lives for a season or longer from whom we can learn and whom we can teach. Sometimes they speak life into us, and sometimes we speak life into them. But most of all, it is about how we build those relationship along the journey. El Camino taught me to listen to those around me; taught me that I can learn from them. How are you building the relationships in your life journey that God has put in your path? Are you leaning into them, or are you tearing them down? This applies to all the ones on your journey: There are ones who are hard to love, and there are ones that you would like to spend more time with. Lean into the relationships that God has placed before you. They are part of your learning in your life journey. Before you know it, your life journey will be near its twilight years. What relationships will you have spoken life into during your life journey? It is not too late to begin!