Saturday, September 28, 2013

Money and Love

Pop quiz:  you are a wealthy family visiting a Disney theme park which allows families with disabled children to move to the front of long lines at the rides.  Do you (a) rent a mobility device and tell you child to ride it pretending to be disabled; (b) hire a disabled tour guide to be a part of your “family” so you appear to have a qualified family member; (c) write a note to Disney thanking them for showing your kids the true meaning of hospitality?  You are probably not surprised to learn that many people chose (a) or(b). How do people think of these schemes? Do they have any sense that the lesson they are teaching their children, “you can buy your place in line”, is the wrong one?

I read about this story in a column by Bob Greene (WSJ, Sept. 26).  Mr. Greene makes these and other points in reporting that Disney was changing its policies on giving access to families of children with disabilities because wealthy families had devised more scams than Disney could prevent.  At the same time I read this story I was working my way through the advice Paul gave his young protégé, Timothy, about how to pastor wealthy people in his congregation.  One of the commands to be conveyed was that “those who are rich in this present world (are) not be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain… .”  So I thought maybe posting a sign with these words at the front of the ride lines would be a good idea. Of course, that would lead to a lawsuit from those who love wisdom but hate its source, namely God.   But, I digress.

So, later that day I am writing to some friends in our church asking for a meeting to figure out how to keep our low-income free meal program going given that our primary funding source was cutting our future support in half.  This ministry is expanding to meet a growing need at just the time that our funding is disappearing. Now what?  One of the people on the ministry team replied, “we will make up the shortfall.” This was an offering of thousands of dollars.  It was generous beyond my hopes.  And I thought of the rest of Paul’s instruction: “Command (those who are rich) to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age.” And I thanked God for this friend who gets it: wealth is a blessing from God to be used to bless others.

Money isn’t the issue. Love is the issue.  How you use your money shows who you really love.  And for the wealthy and truly wise, there will be the blessings of a place in line.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

A Brother's Love

Ryan looks and sounds like most eight year old boys.  His sister, Amber, does not look or sound like most eight year old girls.  Ryan and Amber are twins.  When their mother asked them to write their Christmas letters to Santa she discovered a love story that became a national sensation in the campaign against school-yard bullying.  You perhaps know the story. Ryan writes to Santa, telling Santa that he no longer wants his remote control car and helicopter. Instead, he would like Santa to end the  bullying that his sister suffered each day, mostly on the bus ride to school.  The line of the letter which caught my eye was this one:

                      I prayed that they will stop but god is bisy and needs your help.”

Of course, God is not busy, not in the sense that we know “busy.” God isn’t bound by space or time and thus, by definition, God never has “too much to do” so that he cannot care for the “Ambers” of the world.  And (I trust you are not letting your small children read this) there is no Santa Claus to do God’s work. There is Ryan, though.

The point is that Ryan ended up doing God’s work. Ryan made a sacrifice out of sheer love for his sister.  That is what a brother’s pure love looks like: “I am not asking for my car or helicopter because it would be a better gift for me to see my sister left alone.”  This is how God chooses to be alive in this world, living in and through Ryan, and you.

Diana Butler Bass, in “Christianity After Religion” quotes poet Wendell Berry’s “The Vision”, a poem about how the world will be transformed.  It ends with the line: “This is no paradisal dream. Its hardship is its possibility.”  In thinking about the life of the spiritually-focused church, Bass concludes that “(t)he hard work is the possibility”. She sums up the role of the church today like this: “the goal is to perform the reign of God in and for the life of the world.” (p. 239)  We are the performers of God’s reign.

This is the lesson of Ryan’s message of sacrificial love for Amber: he was performing the reign of God. Amber didn’t need Santa. She had Ryan.  Live the possibility of love.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Casting and Chasing Shadows

As the autumnal equinox draws near, if you take your sunrise walk or run on a road which runs due west you have a sense of running with the sun and toward a shadow, a very long shadow.  But you can never catch that shadow, no matter how fast you run.  The shadow is longer and always ahead of you.  The sun creates a path and a goal.

Which is what I saw one morning this week soon after I had learned that my good friend’s father had just died. John Steven Gabrielse was the last of the founding members of a what has grown into an international contracting firm.  John and his co-founders started out literally digging ditches and grew from that humble beginning a company that has employed hundreds and which one of John’s sons and a grandson continue to grow with their partners.  John cast a long shadow. He was a good worker, but more than that, he was a man of a steady and strong faith.  Both his work and his faith cast these shadows which all those who followed after him can follow and never catch.

What gave John the ability to cast that shadow, he knew, was that he was always running with the Son.  There were of course the usual hard times that come with running any business, and raising any family.  No life is without some darkness. Yet, on this earth, the darkness is always dispelled by the light of the faith which fuels our journey. For John and his co-founders, the company they built moves steadily forward, following the shadow John’s life and faith cast.  John’s journey west is over. His life of faith is now rewarded with the white robe and crown awarded to those who cast long shadows for the Son on this earth. But what for those who remain?

It falls to each of us to faithfully follow the example of the Forerunner.  Think about someone who cast a long shadow that you still follow.  But more than that, commit your life to running with the Son at your back. Like John,  cast a long shadow that those whom you love can chase all the way home.  This is a life worth remembering.

And then one day we will all be together, walking in under the “welcome home banner”, where there is no more sun, for God will be our only light.  And the shadows will be no more, for we will dwell in perfect light. Forgiven, redeemed points of light, surrounding the Son.  The chase will be over. Life begins… 

Saturday, September 7, 2013

A Weekend in Bed?

I suppose that there was a time in my life when the prospect of a weekend in bed would have sounded like a perfect way to prepare for the following week.  There must be many people for whom that is still a dream. I write this because the advertisers for a national hotel chain have taken to reaching out the public with a bed called “The Heavenly Bed.”  They are so confident of their approach to this marketing campaign that they have a registered trademark on the word “Heavenly”.   The copyrighted slogan they use is “A Weekend in the Heavenly Bed Makes it Easier to Come Back to Earth. Make Monday Better. Book a Westin Hotel.” 

It is marketing campaigns like this that make me feel the country is not nearly as opposed to God as some surveys suggest.  Would you spend millions of dollars developing a campaign around a bed called “Heavenly” if people didn’t believe in Heaven? If the week was “Hell”, then make the weekend “Heaven.”  That only makes sense if people know what those words mean and the concepts to which they refer.  So, the national surveys must show that while church is not popular, God still is. Thank God.

But who is left that can spend a weekend in bed, even if it is a slice of Heaven? Among people like me who try to figure out how to get people to think about God for one hour out of forty-eight, this is  a big question.  The church’s “customers”, like the hotel’s customers, are often busier on weekends than on weekdays.  Between sporting activities, family trips, home repair projects, charity runs/walks, Monday is often the relief that comes from the weekend, rather than the weekend serving as the “rest” for the week.

What a weekend in bed cannot offer, even for those who take advantage of this slice of heaven offer from Westin, is rest for the “spirit.”  Maybe that is the campaign someone needs to develop for the “spiritual but not religious.”  What you really need to make Monday better is the confidence that comes from knowing there is a purpose to your work week other than chasing the dollar. What you really need to know is that there is a meaning to life that you find only in serving God and Neighbor. What you really, truly need to hear on the weekend is that Someone loves you just as you are.  There is a Heavenly rest for you, for today and Monday. But you won’t find it in bed.