The key the building supervisor dropped on my desk would open the nearby office of a retired, emeritus professor. When I first moved to the Hall of Misfit Instructors, the old fellow introduced himself, mentioning that he expected to visit his campus office maybe once a week. I never saw him again.
Two people called for the key, a professor and his graduate assistant. The professor explained that the emeritus prof had died. The two of them came to scout for anything of importance to the department. When I swung open the door, we found a classic academic's lair, walled floor to ceiling with books, boxed journals, and cabinets overflowing with papers. I left them to their work.
Ten minutes later, the two returned the key. "Thanks. We are taking just this stapler and this chair."
A week later, family members came. They collected a box of photos, paperweights, and a desk lamp.
A week after that, two burly guys knocked on my door. "We need to clean out that room down there." Concerned that the previous brief visits may have overlooked valuables, I inspected while the movers brought up their carts. There were books and more books, some with the departed doctor as author or co-author. Stacks of thick three-ring binders and file folders held research notes, grant applications, and reports. A box contained photos of crystals. Charts, posters, and stereochemical graphs peeked from behind shelves. Through the afternoon with huge wheeled bins, the fellows carted out books and paper, making a mountain in the recycle dumpster below.
After loading the vacated filing cabinets and desk on their truck, they left me the key and the empty room. I was in a gloomy Ecclesiastes mood.
"For a person may labor with wisdom, knowledge and skill,
and then they must leave all they own
to another who has not toiled for it.
This too is meaningless and a great misfortune."
Perhaps you've been through such sorting and dispersal for a grandparent or parent.
You knew them. You still remember them. You sentimentally retain cherished souvenirs they left behind.
You know what saddened me then about this dissolve of a robust professional life? Every scrap of discovery for which the researcher labored was trashed. How very Ecclesiastes.
"For the wise, like the fool, will not be long remembered;
the days have already come when both have been forgotten.
Like the fool, the wise too must die!"
You know what really depresses me now, seven years later?
I have forgotten his name.
Cue Adagio for Strings. There is no state of mind so wrist-slitting morose that good music cannot make sadder.
When he wasn't busy being a medical student, my friend Ross Duff lead a small church. Thus he got a call asking if he could officiate at a funeral home, and he agreed. The funeral director soon called back and asked, "I remember you played the organ for us. Our regular musicians can't come, and the deceased requested organ music. Can you help with that too?" Ross obliged. He arrived early and set to playing the old Hammond organ that was in kind of a large closet. At the appointed hour, Ross walked around to the chapel.
There was the open casket with the honoree, whom Ross had never met. There in back stood the funeral director.
No one else was present. Not a soul.
"I saw a man who had no family,
no son or brother.
He always worked hard
but was never satisfied with what he had.
He never asked himself, 'For whom am I working so hard?
Why don’t I let myself enjoy life?'
This also is very sad and useless."
The funeral director nodded. Ross read the obituary and preached the funeral to the empty chairs. After a concluding prayer, the funeral director motioned Ross to come with him. Ross got in the car's passenger seat and rode to the cemetery with the casket. At the graveside, Ross exhorted the funeral director, the birds, and—I presume—two burly guys waiting with shovels.
On Memorial Day, I memorialize not just soldiers known, but those unknown.
"No man is an iland, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thine owne were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee." -- John Donne, Meditation 17, Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions
We need not end so dismally. Have I told you about the night I spent pushing a casket?
It was to be a big church funeral for a community leader, a friend in whose home I had enjoyed much laughter and meatloaf. In the church building I was helping the family arrange chairs and masses of flowers when the lights flickered out. Tornado sirens started! I assured them that I would finish setup and lock the church building. I had the key. As the last of them got in their cars, rain was pouring down—or rather, somewhat sideways.
With a tiny flashlight, I returned to the sanctuary and heard dripping. Of several leaks, one was on the closed casket. I set aside flowers, unlocked the wheels, and pushed the casket a few feet away. When I returned with wastebaskets, I found an additional leak—right over the casket. "Old friend, you're attractive even now," I joked as I cautiously wheeled the casket through the darkness.
Eventually passing by to seek garbage bags to protect stacked chairs, I was no longer amused to find drip, drip, drip—on the casket. "I never knew you to stay still," I complained as we sought a dry spot.
By 2 a.m. the storm passed and power returned. I toweled off the casket, returned stuff to appropriate positions, wetvac'd some spots, and set up fans. At the huge, happy funeral, the flowers looked dewy fresh. I got to practice tight-lipped yawns.
"This means God’s holy people must be patient.
They must obey God’s commands and keep their faith in Jesus.
Then I heard a voice from heaven saying,
'Write this: Blessed are the dead who die from now on in the Lord.'
The Spirit says, 'Yes, they will rest from their hard work, and
the reward of all they have done stays with them.'" (the Revelation to John, chapter 14)
Visit a cemetery. Prove Ecclesiastes' words not entirely right. See ya' there—sooner or later.
Good morning Surgeons!
Hope you are doing well...
We're finishing up our Breathless series and we'll talk about finding God in the midst of a troubled life.
This Sunday night we have a Special concert, 7pm at the Barn, Pat Donohue, of Prairie Home Companion... it will be $20 for a ticket to this amazing show.
We have several slots available for our setup / tear down team to help with Sunday morning... talk to Selma Nunes to get connected
CIY kids, coming June 22nd through 29th, a huge thank you for the folks who are signed up to host, we still need 1-2 more families to make sure everyone is covered.
Next week we're starting our Bad Things series, talking about the life of Joseph, it's going to be awesome.
A couple of months ago I woke up suddenly at three in the morning with a mental image I couldn't shake and a string of words falling off of my tongue. I found my phone on my nightstand and typed them quickly before I fell back asleep. God had given me a beautiful dream, a dream of redemption and life, and I consider it a true gift. This is what I found on my phone the next morning:
So, when we let him, he (the lion, that is) finds a place in the deserts of our dead hearts to lie down. At first he just gets comfortable and settled there. And then he paces around some and starts roaring softly, working up to a louder roar as he slowly speaks life and creation back into our souls. He roars, and hills of sand turn into grassy fields. He plants trees and flowers, one by one, in our hearts, and it is good. Eventually, when we let him, the lion returns our deserted hearts into that first Garden of Eden. He changes us. He takes us back to what we were created for. That is how He redeems us.
I thank God that He chooses to enter my dreams.
Good morning Surgeons!
We're continuing our Breathless Series with a message titled, "Threats to Life Together" where Solomon gives us some great answers to some tough questions.
Special music this week is My Oh My by Tristan Prettyman.
We had a fun concert with SAW last night... and remember our special concert next week with Pat Donohue (of Prairie Home Companion). Concert is at 7pm, tickets are $20.
We have CIY teams coming... and need host families to keep 17 kids for a week - the days are June 22th-29th... we do this every year and it's a lovely way to support this great organization. Contact Selma Nunes with how many you can host and if you can house girls or guys.
We're wrapping up Breathless next week where we ask what's easier, finding Nemo or finding God?
Happy May weekend Surgeons,
We're launching our Breathless series this weekend, talking about Ecclesiastes and Solomon's conclusions on living well.
Special music this weekend is Vince Gill, "Go Rest High on that Mountain."
We have a couple of cool opportunities coming up in May!
1) Men's Breakfast at Terry Forrester's house, 8:05 am, Saturday morning May 18th
2) Time of Prayer, also May 18th, 5pm at the Barn (1988 Kirby Road, McLean, VA 22101)
3) Time of Pizza, right after the time of prayer :)
4) Third Saturday Concert! Opening act starts at 7pm, main concert starts at 8pm, $10 at the door, right after the prayer / pizza time
5) May 26th, 7pm at the Barn, we're hosting a special concert with Pat Donohue, grammy award winning guitarist. He is the guitar for Prairie Home Companion and Garrison Keillor... and is a wonderful musician. Tickets are $20, but this will be a great show.
Next week we are continuing our Breathless series, and we hope to see you then!
A little too frequently, I experience a real life illustration for a Bible school lesson.
The brilliant weather of the last few Saturdays encouraged me to restart my bicycling. On this delicious Saturday morning I aimed for a quick trip along the Fairfax Parkway, a 10-mile glide from Herndon Station to Fair Lakes mall and then back. I thought to buy some small items at the mall. So I clipped on one of my bike’s rear bags. I have a pair of these red bags, shown in this photo from an autumn ride.
The one hour ride to the mall was lovely. The robins, cardinals, and mockingbirds were singing their little hearts out. The dogwoods were brilliant in the morning light. At Target, I bought balloons for the kid’s class and began the return. Arriving back at my car, I hopped off, and found this: The bike bag had vanished.
In about 20 seconds I exercised the complete sequence of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
You see, the old jeans I was wearing had holes in the pockets. So I put my keys in the bike bag. On most bike trips that would be just a car key in the bag. But no, for this short romp I put the whole ring in the bag. After my purchases, I threw my wallet in the bag too. And my phone.
Retracing my route, I swung by the police station next to the trail. No one had turned in the bag. They gave me the number for the Fairfax police.
The sunny scene in which I previously basked, I now grimly scanned for my red bike bag. I tried to recall any bumps that might have tossed the bag. I speculated on what a finder might do with the bag. Turn it in? Where? Use my wallet info to call my cell phone? Call my office phone? Email me? If I did not myself discover the bag, could I find my way to Paul’s, Dwaine’s, or Bill’s places in Herndon? Ugh, I'd have no fun replacing my office keys, cancelling my bank cards, visiting the DMV for a new drivers license, and not driving until then.
In the Surge kid’s class, I already planned to soon take up the parables of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the Lost Son, all in Luke chapter 15. If I ever saw McLean and Falls Church again, I had an illustration for those stories. It was no comfort to me that the repeated word “lost” in those stories for the first hearers carried only a little of the idea of “misplaced”. To them, it usually meant “destroyed”, “killed”, or “gone forever”. When Jesus’ guys are in a storm in a boat, they use this word in yelling for help. “Master, we are lost!” They are not looking for directions. They are in panic: “Master! We're all gonna drown!” In the Luke 15 story of the prodigal son, the father does not drawl, “Oh, you’re back?”. Rather, the father exclaims excitedly, “My son was dead, but now he is alive again! He was lost, but now he is found!” In "seeking the lost", we need not so much a GPS as a defibrillator.
The Fair Lakes Shopping Center was within sight. I had biked about 30 miles. And there, on a post by the trail, with cars constantly zooming by, was my red bike bag!
“Hot dog!” I shouted.
This is not an exclamation I recall previously using. I wonder where it came from. A churchy, “Hallelujah!” or “Thank you Jesus!” were only grateful followups as my brain reengaged. Examination found everything present except for a carabiner clip that must have worn out. Whoever put my red bike bag on that post, thank you!
The lost items in the three stories are not special. There exist ninety-nine other sheep, probably other coins, and another son. Those hearing the stories already demonstrated an apathetic tendency to write off wanderers: Cost of doing business. Que sera, sera. Kids these days. But the shepherd, the woman, and the father value the lost items highly, even sacrificially.
The three stories about lost things in Luke 15 are not about anxiety. Rather, Jesus underscores the seeker's love, the seeker's dedication. Jesus spotlights the joy of finding! “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.“ “In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” “But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” God our Father knows exactly where we are, no Google Maps required. God and heaven rejoice at restoration! Woohoo! Party! Sometimes God's people participate with Him, and leave comfort and seek the missing. Sometimes they shed light on the situation. Sometimes they must wait in hope for the missing person to come to his senses. I think Jesus was recommending, "You want joy? Bring back the lost!"
My fourth pass over that stretch of road was the happiest of the day. How was it the birds were again singing in the afternoon? Finding the lost is a joy I understand a little better.
Do you have any lost and found stories?
Good weekend Surgeons!
Hope you are doing well and enjoying the absolutely spectacular weather in northern Virginia and beyond...
We are wrapping our Strapped series this week with a series of commonly asked questions about financial stuff... there will be some wisdom from Dwaine and some from a video interview with Dave Ramsey... it will all be great.
Our special this week is In the End, by JJ Heller.
Please keep praying that God will do His thing with the people of the Surge. Good things are happening and the stories keep rolling in!
We will have our monthly night of prayer at 5pm at the Barn on May 18th, followed by dinner... and a SAW concert complete with coffee and dessert for anyone who wants to hang around. It's going to be a fun evening, so join us!
Our men's breakfast is moving up a week to the 18th as well, to avoid Memorial Day travel and visitors.
If you don't already have something to do Memorial Day weekend, the Marine Band (and our own Karen Reiss) will be playing Wolftrap at 8pm. It's free, but get there early to get a good seat. 10,000 of your closest friends will be there for the concert, with picnic food in hand, to enjoy some good weather, good music and a great fireworks show afterwards.
Next week we will launch into our Breathless series, picking up in Ecclesiastes for some more of God's wisdom expressing through Solomon. Bring a friend and we'll see you next week!
At The Surge we love doing things together... that includes writing a blog! Here are a few of our main contributing authors:
Our fearless leader, Dwaine is the lead pastor at The Surge. His experience in counter terrorism with the CIA prepared him for ministry and he likes dogs and babies even more than E does.
E (short for Eric Reiss) is the Wingman at The Surge and likes dogs, music, Mexican food, his wife Karen and his little girl Evangeline... not necessarily in that order.