Saturday, October 14, 2017

"Regrets, I've Had a Few"

Having dinner with good friends, the conversation turned to today’s “young people”.  We, who are both sides of 60, were talking about those in their early 20’s, the ones just finishing college or starting jobs.  We talked about their need for good mentors and how young they looked. “Did I look that young?”, I wondered out loud, “when I started my career at 22”? My wife assured me I did.

What if we could be 22 again, we wondered? “Boy, there are a few things I would have done differently.”  We all agreed on that observation. But then I began to wonder, would I really have changed anything? As we talked further we wondered whether you could say, “I would have treated this person or situation differently”, without  changing all of the other parts of life. In other words, had I not made this mistake in life, then I would not have been wise enough to avoid making it at another time or with another person.  Or, if I had not met “Mary”, then I would never have met “Martha”.  In other words, isn’t our life the sum of all of the parts, the good choices, the great decisions; the bad choices; the horrible decisions?

So what do we do with the life choices we ‘regret’? We can sing, along with Frank Sinatra, that though ‘we’ve had a few’ they are too few to mention. I am close, I think, to that school of thought.  It is good to remember the choices we regret. That’s what helps us, hopefully, improve our lives, if we use the regrets as lessons.  But we should not dwell upon them. The bigger danger than forgetting regrets too soon is living with them too long. While decisions last a lifetime, the regrets don’t need to. 

The most underrated and least believed fact in the Bible is the truth that God remembers our sins no more.  I have so many encounters with people who are dwelling in regret, in guilt, in shame, wondering how God could accept them given their ‘past.’  I believe the reason we have trouble believing that God could forgive those decisions we regret is that we cannot forgive ourselves for them.  God’s ability to ‘forgive’ is based on his marvelous, grace-filled decision to forget; to accept you, to love you, just as you are, the sum of all the decisions, good, great, bad, horrible.

Can you do the same?


Saturday, October 7, 2017

Of Frogs and Mass Shootings

“If you drop a frog in a pot of boiling water, it will of course frantically try to clamber out. But if you place it gently in a pot of tepid water and turn the heat on low, it will float there quite placidly. As the water gradually heats up, the frog will sink into a tranquil stupor, exactly like one of us in a hot bath, and before long, with a smile on its face, it will unresistingly allow itself to be boiled to death.” (Version of the boiling frog story from Daniel Quinn's The Story of B, source: Wikipedia)

Columbine.

Sandy Hook.

Orlando.

San Bernardino.

Las Vegas.

The Frog Experiment story is not true. The point it makes is all too true.  I know that we as a nation have the ability to find a solution which protects the right to own a gun and at the same time protects society from mass shootings. Do you know that a mass shooting, defined as 4 or more victims, has happened 275 times in 2017 in the United States? Have we lost our ability to be outraged? I have no desire to undo the U.S. Constitution.  I have every desire to see it interpreted in a way which protects the very people for whom it exists. We are smart enough to do this, right?


If we do not act this time I fear we never will. We have grown way too comfortable in the boiling pot.  Let’s get out while we can.  How can we say we bring ‘shalom’ from the God of Peace if we do not start a chorus for doing something rather than nothing.  I do not have the solution, but I want to find one while we still can feel that the water is boiling.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

"To Honor America, Please Rise..."

We teach our children to stand when the National Anthem is played before a sporting event. Why do we do that? The standard announcement which precedes the song states something like, “Now to honor America, please rise, remove your caps and join in the singing…”.

Those words are the key to understanding how Christians should respond to the current controversy over sports figures who kneel during this symbol-laden event.  Christians view themselves as having a very clear order of loyalties: first to God and the Kingdom of Jesus Christ.  Second to our families. Third to the nations in which we live. God has instructed Christians to honor the governing authorities, and so we should. (You can read about it in Romans 13:1-8)  The tradition of standing is also a sign of peace to our neighbors: “we stand with you.”

But, Christians also have a right, even a duty, to peacefully protest the governing authorities when the government invades human rights.  God tells us about the dangers of governments with too much power in Revelation 13. Revelation 13 is the warning for the Church about governments run amok. (Credit to John Stott for this insight) The Beast is a government which demands that Christians reverse the ordering of their loyalties, demanding that the knee bow before it. The bowing of the Christian’s knee is limited to one person: Jesus Christ. (Philippians 2:10)  A government which demands that its people kneel before it as a sign of loyalty is the enemy of God and God’s Church.

At the present time, and really in most times and under most (but not all) governments, there is both a need for national unity and a need for protest against violated rights.  The clear call of Scripture is to give honor where honor is due; to seek peace with all, so far as it depends on us.  So I believe the correct response of Christians citizens of these United States is to stand during the playing of the National Anthem. To refuse to stand is to say, in effect, “I do not honor America.” You may intend your kneeling to say something else, but that is what your neighbor hears you say.

But, I also think that Christians should be in the front lines of the peaceful marches against racism and racial profiling.  God opposes discrimination in all of its varieties.  “We Shall Overcome” is also a symbol-laden song that Christians should stand arm-in-arm to sing as “Christian soldiers marching as to war.”  These acts of peaceful protest also honor America and the foundational principles for which millions have given their lives.  


So, yes, please rise to honor America. It is the pathway to peace with your neighbor. And, yes, please stand with the victims of injustice. It is the pathway to love your neighbor.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

The World is (Not) Ending Today!

Did you know that the world was going to end today? David Meade, a self-proclaimed prophet, had forecast that today, Saturday, September 23, 2017,  a planet called “Nibiru”, or “Planet X”, would crash into the earth, thus bringing our ride to an end.

I really don’t want to spend a lot of your time (or mine) whining about this foolishness, but I don’t want to just let it go either.  You see, this is a perfect opening to talk about the danger of basing an understanding about life on a segment of the Bible which is taken out of context.  To be fair to Mr. Meade, he follows in a long line of others who have made similarly false claims.  I suppose that his motives could have been pure, and that he genuinely wanted to warn us about “the end.” And to explain further, Mr. Meade has now explained that, upon further reflection, the world is not ending today, but starting in October things are going to be a lot different in the world. Really? Consider: “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9)

But, back to my point about understanding the Bible when it comes to prophecy (and anything else, for that matter). Read it for yourself.  Understand the audience the writer is addressing, the circumstances, the timeframe. Yes, the Bible is timeless in its truth, but it was written by humans (inspired by God) to a people at a time in a place for a purpose.  Context matters, Mr. Meade.

So, when we read about the so-called “end of the world” in Matthew 24, we cannot stop half-way. We need to read on to verse 36, in which Jesus is quoted as saying, “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”  So, Mr. Meade, how did you think you got so smart?

The point Jesus was, and is trying to make is “keep watch” (v. 42) and “be ready” (v. 44).  In other words, live your life today as if Jesus is coming to transform the heavens and the earth tomorrow. Jesus’ point is simple:  if you live your life in a way that is pleasing to God it won’t matter when “the end” happens.

And anyway, the “end” is not a bad night, it is a glorious morning just on the horizon!

“He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord be with God’s people. Amen.” (Revelation 22:15)


Saturday, September 16, 2017

Seeing Giants

“There is no way we can win.”  “There is no way this is going to work out for me.”  “We are just too small to have any chance of making a real difference.”

You can add you own favorite sayings to that list if you like. It is the beginning of a list of phrases by which we persuade ourselves that the goal we desire in our lives is unattainable. This kind of thinking goes back to our early days as human beings. You have perhaps heard of the group of men sent  by Moses to explore Canaan, the Promised Land, the “land flowing with milk and honey.” Twelve men are selected to observe and report what lies ahead; the fruit-bearing possibilities of the land; the nature of the enemy they will need to conquer if they are to possess the promised future God has prepared for them.

The men all report that the land is a wonderful place to live, with abundant resources. But ten of the men report that it is a hopeless task. “There are giants in the land.” Two of the men report that they can surely win the battle for the Promised Land.  You can guess whose report prevails. (Read more in Numbers 13-14).  

When you look at your life, at your family, at your work, at your place of worship, do you hold back yourself or people you love from receiving God’s promised future because you see giants in the way? Name your biggest fear, you most daunting challenge in your life right now.  Do you believe that God has a Promised Land for you on the other side of that challenge? Are you willing to confront the challenge, or do you see giants standing between you and God’s promised blessing?  Now do the same exercise for your family, workplace, your place of worship.

The truth was that there were no giants in the land. The ten men made up the bad report. Their fear of losing the present prevented them from taking up the opportunity to grasp God’s future. Friends, the “giants” you see are not real. These are manageable problems you can conquer. On the other side is God’s promised tomorrow.  Let hope replace fear.

Here is a prayer for those times we see giants standing between us and God’s blessings:

“God on the move, teach me how a reckless disobedience originates in a mere lack of trust. Forgive my unbelief that I prefer to call prudence, my fear that’s often masked as good sense. You call your church on a world-transforming mission: give me eyes of faith to trust you and follow in fearless obedience. In Jesus’ name, amen.”
(Credit: Philip F. Reinders, Seeking God’s Face, © Faith Alive Christian Resources, Grand Rapids 2010)


Saturday, September 9, 2017

Get in the Boat!

Of all of the enduring images from post-Hurricane Harvey coverage, the ones that are most memorable for me will be those of the Texas men and women in boats driving through neighborhoods, down what were streets and had become rivers, looking for people to rescue.  As they approached cold, shivering, frightened neighbors, the boat operators would simply pull into the boat as many bodies as possible.  I didn’t see anyone asking questions about political preference, religious practices, beliefs about social issues.

The images said to me that these folks who had a boat were out there to rescue anyone who needed and wanted rescuing with a simple invitation: “Get in the boat!”

This, to me, is the image the Church should always have before it: “You who are in danger of drowning, you who need care and comfort, you who are tired and worn, get in the boat!”

From the very beginning God spoke to humans using images of creating land to separate it from water.  God uses the image of a huge boat to rescue God’s creation.  It is notable, is it not, that one of the characteristics John envisions of the New Heaven and New Earth is that “there was no longer any sea”? What he means, I think, is that the dangers of water, of being devastated by the “sea” will be over.  Hurricanes and storm surges will be no more. But until then the work of the Church is to rescue and heal the victims.

The first task of the Church is to offer the invitation to all who will listen to “get in the boat!”  Our task is not to decide who should get the invitation. Not all will respond to it, but that is between them and God. The Church’s role is not to limit the invitation to people it prefers. God loves the “world”, and the boat is sent to whosoever would believe in the Giver and the Gift.

Two things are necessary for a rescue to happen: one, someone needs to bring a boat and an invitation to get in; two, people need to believe that they need to be rescued, and then to accept the invitation to get in.  If you are someone with a boat, go out and search for those who need rescue. Don’t ask questions, just offer God’s invitation. If you are someone who is not yet in the boat, please, please, accept the invitation and get in the boat.


Saturday, August 12, 2017

"There's Gonna Be a Great Day!"

When I was much younger I had a favorite audition song entitled "Great Day." I loved the upbeat tempo and message: "When you're down and out, lift up your head and shout, there's gonna be great day. Angels in the sky promise that by and by there's gonna be a great day."

I didn't know much about being "down and out" when I was young.  At this stage in my life I see how "down and out" it is possible to get. I live in this traumatic time with many people. Some are family. Some are friends. Some are members of the congregation I serve. And some are strangers, at least until they walk into my study at church.

One visitor was an older man, unemployed and disabled, a single parent to a teenager. He needed a gas card. He told me how he sometimes made money singing and playing his saxophone.  I invited him to audition for me in the sanctuary. So, there the two of us were, in a dark sanctuary, he singing a song he wrote and I serving as audience and potential employer.  After his audition  I gave him the gas card and invited him to perform for our congregation.  After a long discussion he stunned me by handing back the gas card. He said, "I'll be back for that when I come to sing in your church." 

A second visitor was a tall, fit man who looked for all the world like a "success".  What I found out was that he was recently "down-sized" when his position was eliminated. He was married and has seven children.  But, he wasn't there asking for anything from the church. Rather, he was using his time ("all I have is time right now") to explore how he and his wife could best use their "God's Storehouse" fund. On top of their tithe to their church, this couple took extra money, bonuses or gifts, and put them in a separate account to bless people in need.  They had vowed to never use it for themselves. So, though he was unemployed, he was looking to give his savings away.  Rarely have I met a better example of a person who lived out his belief that, though he was presently down and out,  "angels in the sky promise that by and by there's gonna be a great day."

The ultimate "great day" is  going to happen when Gabriel blows his famous horn.  Until then it takes a little effort on our part, and probably a shift in vision from “down” to “up”, to make a

day great. What step of faith are you willing to take today to prepare yourself to receive the promised great day?