Saturday, December 8, 2018

Jesus Meets Satan in the Capitol

If you visit the Illinois State Capitol you will see the encounter between Jesus and Satan. It is, of course, an encounter of symbols.  Representing Jesus: a Christmas Tree and holly. Representing Satan: a statue depicting a snake wrapped around an arm holding an apple.  The intended meaning of the symbol is displayed on a sign which reads: “”Knowledge is the greatest gift.” (source: Madeline Holcombe 

What fascinates me about this story is that the Satanic Temple, which sponsors the statue, claims on its’ website, "We do not promote a belief in a personal Satan…To embrace the name Satan is to embrace rational inquiry removed from supernaturalism and archaic tradition-based superstitions."  In other words, Satan isn’t a person; ‘Satan’ is an ‘idea’ or a ‘belief’ that denies the personhood of Jesus Christ. If Satan isn’t a real person, then neither is Jesus. The symbols, in the minds of the Satanic Temple members, represent a battle, then, of knowledge versus superstition.  Christmas, they would say, is a myth created by the superstitious for the entertainment of the ignorant.

When boiled down to its essence, Christmastide is a series of symbols celebrating the gift of God’s Son to save a doubting, dying world.  Meanwhile, the ‘world’ not only denies Jesus is God but in fact sees the whole “Christmas” season as ‘archaic tradition-based superstitions.’  Christmas: ’tis the season for a good economy fueled by the duped, they say.

Much of the world is happy to celebrate the concepts of  ‘peace, joy, love and hope’. Even the members of the Satanic Temple embrace the "struggle for justice" and believe people should "strive to act with compassion and empathy toward all creatures," according to its website. The question is whether the world waits this season for a real person.

What makes the members of the Church of Jesus Christ different from the members of the Satanic Temple? “Come and worship, come and worship, worship________, the newborn king.”

Fill in the blank.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

"Hold On For One More Day"

I am not sure if I should admit this publicly: I am a huge fan of the 1990’s ‘girl band’, Wilson Phillips. I love their close harmonies, and how they sing like they ‘believe it’.

My car radio service allows me to ‘tag’ songs that I want to switch to whenever they come on. (An expensive indulgence, but I am a commuter, so give me a break.)  One song I tagged is “Hold On” by Wilson Phillips.  You may find me zooming along on Hwy. 23 demonstratively urging myself and the world to believe that ‘things’ll go your way’.  As I was in the recovery mode from one recent rendition I started thinking about the background of this song, and how appropriate the song is for an Advent tune. Stay with me here.  

December, when the church celebrates anticipation by waiting in darkness for the light to appear, is a time when many suffer from depression.  I have experienced this myself. The demands of the season in terms of year-end work and family events; the off-the-chart expectations that everyone will miraculously become nice and friendly on Christmas Eve and Day; this is a formula for mild depression hitting lots of people.  It’s just too much.

So, here is my suggestion: memorize this lyric. When you are standing in line at the register; when you are chasing children to get ready for the holiday events; when you are struggling with how to pay for all of those presents you want to buy; just sing this line: “Don’t you know? Don’t you know things can change?...Hold on for one more day.”

Seriously, Chynna Phillips explains in Chicken Soup for the Soul, The Story Behind the Song, that this song was born out of her own efforts to ‘stay sober’. She explains she was ‘at a crossroads’, where she could stay on a path in which her life would fall apart, or she could find the courage and strength to change direction. But first, she just needed to ‘hold on for one more day’, to get to tomorrow. This song became a #1 Hit because of its message of Advent Hope:  Your life can change. Just hold on, friend, for one more day; things will go your way.

Your Hope is on the way.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Hunting Silence

Maybe I will need to take up hunting. I am not a hunter, not because I oppose it, but because there are other things I prefer to fill the “hunting hours” of my life.  But many hunters I know tell me that as they take up their places today in their favorite trees the true success of the hunt has already happened…they have found silence.  The leaves fall. The critters crunch the underbrush. Peace is found in the quiet of the woods.  Now, what happens in the deer hunting cabin may be less quiet, but that is another story.

I have a friend who wrote a book about the mystery of what happens in the cabin ‘up north’, and in the surrounding woods.  Dreams of Hidden Forest, by Ronald R. Strahl, tells a story which brings out the joy of finding a respite from the hurried life as one explores the relationship of all of trees and deer and bears and, oh yes, hunters, past and present.  One of my takeaways is that often the time spent hunting is as much a time of meditation as it is anything else. 

Simon and Garfunkel wondered about these Sounds of Silence, when the air is filled with “people talking without speaking/people hearing without listening.”  Prophetic words, don’t you think? Do we avoid silence because we need to make sound to prove our worth, to give life meaning? Or, do we fear silence, because of what we might hear in those sounds of silence. For people who pray, the constant challenge is not telling God what we want or need to say, but rather listening in the silence for God’s reply.  We fear the answer, perhaps.  We cannot fathom the silence of a God who speaks only when the time is right and when we can hear. So, we keep on talking, filling the silence with sound.  Thus my challenge to you: Find a silent place, and quietly mediate there for five minutes on this verse from Lynn Unger’s poem, Boundaries.

Listen. Every molecule is humming
its particular pitch.
Of course you are a symphony.
Whose tune do you think
the planets are singing
as they dance?

Saturday, November 10, 2018

On Serving in a Divided Government

As I observed the formation of a new federal government and a new state government, I imagined what I might preach to the victors on the first weekend after their hard-fought campaigns. With the political campaigns behind, with the seemingly impossible task of governing ahead, consider how a crew of nine men learned to row a Gold Medal boat.

“What mattered more than how hard a man rowed was how well everything he did in the boat harmonized with what the other fellows were doing. And a man couldn’t harmonize with his crewmates unless he opened his heart to them. He had to care about his crew. It wasn’t just the rowing but his crewmates that he had to give himself up to, even if it meant getting his feelings hurt…. ‘Joe, when you really start trusting those other boys, you will feel a power at work within you that is far beyond anything you’ve ever imagined. Sometimes, you will feel as if you have rowed right off the planet and are rowing among the stars.’”

The ‘Boys in Boat’ “…were all tough, they were all fiercely determined, but they were also good-hearted. Every one of them had come from humble origins or been humbled by the ravages of the hard times in which they had grown up….The challenges they had faced together had taught them humility-the need to subsume their individual egos for the sake of the boat as a whole-and humility was the common gateway through which they were able now to come together and begin to do what they had not been able to do before.”
The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown, pp. 235, 241

May those who now have the privilege of serving our nation and states, divided as they may be politically, find within them the rare ability to row the boat together.  ‘We The People’, we whom they are called to serve, we deserve it.

For those who wonder if humility, if striving to learn to ‘row among the stars’ is unrealistic, there is always the alternative with which humankind has struggled since Cain and Abel.

‘First pride, then the crash—
    the bigger the ego, the harder the fall.’  Proverbs 16:18 (The Message)

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Define Neighbor

“Love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus (Mark 12:31a)

Say you lived next to Burt and Tillie.  One day Burt and Tillie’s house is struck by lightning and it burns to the ground.  You look out your window at the destruction and, as you look to what used to be the back porch you see them. Burt, Tillie and their cat.  They are wrapped in a blanket to keep warm from the cold penetrating their pajamas. You see that they, Burt and Tillie, not the cat, have slippers on.  They look stunned. They aren’t so much weeping as just in shock.

So you wander over to the neighbor’s house and you try to think of what to say. You know them as good, hard-working people who take care of their house and family. So, are you thinking, “I wonder why God punished them with a lightning bolt?”  Are you thinking, “I am sorry it happened to you, but better you than me?”  Are you thinking, “Do you think insurance will pay for this? What is an ‘act of God’ anyway?”  What you finally settle on to say is, “How can I help?”  They answer that they don’t know where to begin; they lost everything in the fire. But, they tell you, they are happy they got out of the fire alive.  You nod in agreement that escaping death by such a means is one good take-away.

You stand there a while longer, staring at the destruction, shivering with them.  You realize you have a full day of activities planned. So, you say, “Well, I am really sorry for all of this. I can’t imagine what it must be like. But, like I say, if I can help, let me know.”

You get home, turn on the television and see the film footage of the fire. Someone has started a relief fund for Burt and Tillie to help them get back on their feet.  Money is starting to come in, they say, from people all over the viewing area.  “Well,”, you think, “that makes me feel better! They’re going to be fine.  I sure am glad I told them how sorry I was for their loss, and I even offered to help. That’s what a neighbor is for, right?”

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Healing and the Call of Fools

Why do some faith healings I am called to participate in turn out as desired and some not? Is there a point to healing oil and laying on of hands? Frederick Buechner’s words struck a chord with me.  I pray they help someone struggling with the presence, or apparent lack thereof, of Jesus the Healer in their quest for peace. As we pursue healing in Jesus’ name, may we always be willing to be ‘fools’ for Jesus.
“…Nowadays,…(miraculous healing) has usually been associated with religious quackery or the lunatic fringe; but as the psychosomatic dimension of disease (is) taken more…seriously by medical science, it has regained some of its former respectability. How nice for God to have this support at last.
For those who prefer not to believe in (miracles), a number of approaches are possible, among them:
 -The idea of miracles is an offense both to our reason and to our dignity. Thus…miracles don't happen….; -If the medical authorities agree that a healing is inexplicable in terms of present scientific knowledge, you can simply ascribe this to the deficiencies of present scientific knowledge.; -If otherwise intelligent and honest human beings are convinced, despite all arguments to the contrary, that it is God who has healed them, you can assume that their sickness, like its cure, was purely psychological. Whatever that means….
…You can always give (healing) a try. Pray for it. If it's somebody else's healing you're praying for, you can try…laying your hands on her as Jesus sometimes did. If her sickness involves her body as well as her soul, then God may be able to use your inept hands as well as your inept faith to heal her.
If you feel like a fool as you are doing this, don't let it throw you. You are a fool, of course, only not a damned fool for a change.
…Don't try too hard to feel religious, to generate some healing power of your own. Think of yourself…as a…clogged-up pipe that a little of God's power may be able to filter through if you can just stay loose enough. Tell the one you're praying for to stay loose too.
If God doesn't seem to be giving you what you ask, maybe he's giving you something else.” (First published in Wishful Thinking and later in Beyond Words; Edited for length; italics are mine)

Friday, October 12, 2018

Faith, Baseball and the Pursuit of Perfection

I am writing this Friday night at 4:36 p.m.  Two hours from now, to the minute, the pitcher will stretch. He will then pray, “Lord, whatever happens, be with me.” And at 7:09 p.m. the madness will begin.  Another post-season championship series, last stop before the World Series.

Leading the way in Game 1 for Los Angeles Dodgers will be this pitching machine, this man of faith.  What this pitcher believes is that his performance tonight is not about pleasing his team owner or manager, not his teammates, not his fans. No, tonight, like every night, is about pleasing God, about not wasting the talent God gave him.

This pitcher is one of the greats in the current era of major league baseball.  He has won many awards and carries a lifetime set of statistics to back up his belief that God is behind the talent in his left arm. That’s why this pitcher carries in his mind his favorite verse: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters…”(Colossians 3:23). For this pitcher the old pitcher’s excuse,  “I executed the pitch really well”, will never be applied to his performance. His goal is ‘outs’, not ‘hits’.

So, a little after 1 p.m. today, Clayton Kershaw entered Miller Park, home of the Milwaukee Brewers, on a mission to use that talent God has given him to give glory to God. He won’t be pointing towards heaven on a big strikeout; he will let his pitching do the work of pointing to God.

I am writing this post a couple hours before the game begins because I don’t know how charitable I can be towards him if Mr. Kershaw emerges victorious.  He won’t say that God is a Dodgers fan, but neither will I say God is a Brewers fan. But God probably loves us relishing a well-pitched championship game.

Win or lose, Mr. Kershaw knows one thing: as he walks to the mound tonight God is with him. “I know he’s already there.” I want Mr. Kershaw to know God is pleased with him. I know he wants to be perfect.  He probably won’t be. But, that doesn’t mean God left the mound.  Play ball!
(Source: The Control Pitcher, Stephanie Apstein, Sports Illustrated, May 7, 2018)