Sunday, April 15, 2018

Looking Fresh

So, I was listening to Highway Star, by Deep Purple, when I began to think about my dad.  My dad was pretty cool in 1972, the year Deep Purple's album Machine Head came out.  Highway Star was the first track on the album, and I could imagine it playing on the radio the day my dad bought his brand new Ford Torino.  Dad probably felt pretty fresh that day.

More than a decade later, my siblings and I found a picture of my dad from the early 1970s.  He had that Woodstock-looking beard going on.  He wore a flowery shirt with butterfly collars.  His belt buckle was half the size of a license plate, and he wore blue jeans that look like he had stolen them from the wardrobe room of Easy Rider.  His legs were crossed, in that bad _ _ _ way and he was smoking a huge cigar.  His facial expression said, "Don't mess with me."  Man! He thought he cool.

When my sister, brother, and I saw this picture,  we laughed and laughed, and laughed.  In our mind, it was the funniest thing we had ever seen in our lives.  Life lesson learned here? - No matter how cool you look and feel, someday, someone is going to see a picture of you, and they will laugh until they cannot breathe.

Now, to be fair to my dad, it was the early 1980s when my siblings and I looked at his picture.  No doubt, we were wearing something goofy like parachute pants or neon-colored-fluorescent socks.  And, if my kids saw a polaroid of us from then, they will no dought laugh at us.

William Ralph Inge said, "Whoever marries the spirit of this age will find himself a widower in the next."   The Apostle Paul said, "Brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you.  Let them be a living and holy sacrifice-the kind he will find acceptable.   This is the way to worship him. Don't copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.  Then you will learn to know God's will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect." - Romans 12:1-2

Paul was warning us about the spiritual dangers of conforming to the age in which we live.  Of course, none of us want to be so different from the people around us that we stand out, like some kind of visitor from another planet.  (Ok, some may want this, but not most.) Yet, as Christians, we need to avoid being so caught up in an obsession to fit in with our culture that we lose our Christian distinctiveness. 

In the late 4th century, Saint Augustine wrote about two cities -the city of God and the city of man/humankind.  We Christians belong to both.  We participate in an earthly culture and society, such as the U.S. or Nicaragua.  As citizens of these earthly cities, we benefit from their cultures and economies. We also contribute to them, by being loyal and hard-working citizens, who seek the common good for all people.  Yet, these earthly communities, these cities of man, are finite and their glory will one day fade.  And so, while we care about these precious countries we call home, we know that they will not last forever; at least not in their current form.

We also belong to an eternal city - the city of God.   This city is part of an eternal Kingdom, whose glory will never fade and whose Ruler will never fall from his throne.  To this city, we owe complete allegiance.  And, it is from this eternal city that we find our true identity.

All of this means that while we want to fully participate in the life of our earthly home, we do not want to so conform to it that when we step in the glory of eternity, we look like some kind of oddball, who has stepped out of some goofy-old picture that was found in a shoebox. 

As Christians, it is more important to fit in to the city of God than to fit in to the city of man. 

Monday, April 9, 2018

So, I was reading Romans chapter 8, when Fight Song, by Rachel Platten, came to mind.  Let me back up.  Here is part of what the Apostle Paul says in Romans eight. 
“Who/what shall sperate us from the love of Christ?  Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness or peril, or sword?  As it is written,

    ‘For your sake, we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him ho love us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”   

The other day, when reading this passage for, at least, the 1,000th time, I noticed the powerful word NO.  So, to what was Paul saying “no”?  He starts the passage by talking about all the hardships we might face in this lifetime.  He then quotes Psalm 44:22, which is a Psalm lamenting Israel’s defeat and exile.  And in it, the Psalmist is wrestling with great discouragement and is tempted with giving up on himself and his people. 

Now, here is the point.  When bad things happen to us, we begin to lose sight of our value.  Discouragement can lead to a permanent state of low-self-esteem, in which we begin thinking very poorly of ourselves.  Others may even encourage this, by giving their negative assessment of us when we are down.   This state of discouragement and low self-esteem was the state of affairs of the Psalmist who, at this point, had just given up. 

To this, Paul says a resounding, “No.”  No.  We are more than conquerors, through Christ.  It doesn’t matter what we look like to others, or how feel on the inside; we are more than our current mess.  We are more than our current situation.  And just like that, Fight Song came on in my head.

Now, I would like to tell you about a Christian man named Toyohiko Kagawa.  Though he has almost been forgotten in the U.S., “In the period between the First and Second World Wars, Toyohiko Kagawa was often mentioned together with Gandhi and Albert Sweitzer as a model of how to blend prayer, personal caring, and social action.  His conviction that the redeeming love of Christ on the cross should not be merely admired but imitated took him into the worst slums of Japan, but also into the emperor’s place.  He personally took care of the poor, from starving babies to dying elders.  He established settlement houses, worked for the formation of labor unions and peasant unions, carried on evangelistic campaigns, and served on various national relief committees.”  - From Living Out Christ’s Love
Here is how Kagawa talked about our failures. 
“Jesus Christ was crucified as a failure, and his disciples all ran away from him.  Nevertheless, Jesus Christ did not call himself defeated.  Jesus was a success, though apparently a failure.  There are many who think themselves successful but do not realize that actually, they are failures.

Once I visited the home of a shipping millionaire with the chief editor of the Osaka newspaper.  When I went to that house, I asked the editor, ‘What will the owner do with this house?’  He replied, 'He will confine himself within it.’  At that time, I was living in a house six feet square and found it quite comfortable. When Kropotkin (a political prisoner in Russia) was in prison, he walked five miles a day in his cell.  When I was put in the Tachibana prison in Kobe, I followed Kropotkin’s example.  My cell was six feet square, and I could walk about six steps.  I walked in the cell for about two miles every day.  Thus I could think of my residence as being two miles wide!  The writer of the epistle to the Hebrews could say, ‘Be content with what you have for God has said, ‘I will never leave you or forsake you.’  Saint Paul wrote these words from prison, ‘I have learned to be content with whatever I have.’ 

Jesus Christ spent his life in destitution and had nothing to the last moment.  Yet the Crucified One was the most successful person who ever lived.  True success is to succeed in, to inherit, life.  The truly successful person is the one who can enjoy the life of God.  So long as you suffer because of crucifixion, destitution, and persecution, you can do nothing.

I know a young man in the slums who gets up at five in the morning, studies till six, and then goes out to work in the enamel factory all day long.  When he comes back in the evening, he goes out to preach on the street every evening.  He had no time he could call his own and continued this program for four years, yet I do not consider this young man a failure. 

Why is the Christian church of today powerless?  Christians should consider carefully the cause.  One of the members of a labor union in Kobe pawned all his clothes and gave the money to the union, and when more was needed was ready even to sell the mates covering the floor of his house to help along the strike.  When Japanese Christians become dead in earnest enough to sell off even their house mats for the sake of their religion, Christianity will have power.  The churches of the present have not got as much zeal as have the labor unions."

I think Kagawa would say to us, "Stop letting externals determine your sense of worth.  You are more than your circumstances.  You are more than what others see in you.  Rise up!  Your are more than conquerors in Christ. Friends, this is our fight song.  

Monday, April 2, 2018

Psalm two Podcast

Too Much Time...

I was listening to Styx’s song, Too Much Time on My Hands when it dawned on me.  Very few people, these days, are asking, “Is there life after death?”  It seems that they are more interested in the question, “Is there life after birth?”  Chronic boredom is the curse of people living in the wealthiest societies the world has ever created.  With more time and toys than could have ever been imagined by past generations, we do not know what to do with ourselves.  Thus, we waste and squander our lives away, pursuing trifling matters, rather than pursuing things which matter.  The result is what the apostle Paul calls dissipation (see Ephesians 5:18 in a good study Bible).  To use a metaphor, the sin of dissipation is like spilling a valuable liquid, so that it runs everywhere and the owner loses that which he had.

When our lives have no direction, the results are that we lose the value of our time through dissipation.  This is what Styx is singing about in the song Too Much Time on My Hands.  But, there is an alternative to chronic boredom and dissipation. God can show us the purpose of our lives.  And by this, I am not just talking about finding a career, or even just being saved from sin.  God designed us, on purpose, so that our lives would advance his work in the world, in way unique to our own gifts and graces.  The great, 20th century theologian, Howard Thurman, had this to say:

“We have seen people who are caught up in a single idea…and every time you see them, it is all they ever talk about.  And, if you don’t want to be a part of it, you have to escape them in some way.  There is a kind of contagion that is inherent in the process, when a person is able to put at the disposal, to the thing that he/she seeks, all the resources of his/her life.  Now, when she/he does this, it means two things.  1.  He/she is one thing.  He becomes one thing.  2. The thing which he/she is devoted to, its quality, its character, its dimensions, begins to invade her/him, and he/she becomes, not merely like the thing that she/he seeks.  She/he becomes one with the thing that she/he seeks. 

This is the kind of world, in which if a man/woman is willing and able to yield the nerve-center of her/his consent, to put at the disposal of that single end, all of the resources of his/her mind, and life, and spirit, this is the kind of world that honors that. 

And, it is wonderful, you see, because a man/woman may not be talented, may not be great in the eyes of others.  He/she may be a simple, humble, human being; but at the place where he/she functions, with all of his/her simplicity, with all of his/her limitations, if she/he is able at that spot to say, “yes,” with all of him/herself, to that which is to him/her more important that whether or not he/she lives or dies, whether he/she succeeds or fails, if he/she is able to say, “yes,” then the resources of life will begin to move toward him/her.” 

The Apostle Paul says it this way: “One thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3.

And, “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”  (Galatians 2:20)

Question for Refection:  What is your “one thing” that drives your life?  If you cannot answer that, then spend some time asking the Holy Spirit to reveal and kindle in you a passion for life. 

If you would like to hear Howard Thurman, in his own words, click the link below.

Psalm 3 Podcast

Monday, March 26, 2018

All Will Be Well

Recently, I read an article about the discouragement so many of our young people feel - especially our young men.  I single them out because all of the recent mass-shootings have been done by young men.  Why is that?  Well, our society’s less than adequate response to mental illness is a partial explanation, but I don’t think that explains everything.  Over the last two decades, rates of depression, suicide, and drug abuse has risen among men, while rates of college graduation, income levels, employment, and a sense of happiness and purpose (as self-reported) has fallen.

I think that a part of the over-all unhappiness is because this generation has been told over and over that things are only going to get worse.  The environment, the economy, the family unit, and the culture at large is falling apart and will only get worse.  When enough people believe that, it is not hard to predict what will come next.  People will begin giving up on life.

But, it doesn’t have to be that way. As Christian, we have hope.  Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”  Now, as soon as I say that, I can hear Karl Marx saying in my ear, “And that is why religion is the opium of the people.”  By that, he meant that religion would pacify people, so that they would put up with bad things in life, because of a belief in heaven.

Well, that is not what Hebrews is talking about.  When the Bible speaks of hope, it is not talking about wishful thinking, or deferring the hopes of this life for heaven.  Instead, it is talking about a persistent belief that things can and will be different because of who Jesus is and because of what he has done.

So, while we do believe in heaven, we do not believe that every promise of God has to wait until then.  Hope gives us a holy sense of discontent.  And far from lulling us to us to passivity and mental sleep, it arouses us.  Hope calls on us to wake up and do something, so that earth reflects the kingdom of God (see the Lord’s Prayer on this one).

Hope causes students to stand up and be counted, to demand that their schools be safe.  Hope also moves us to do something about he discouragement that holds so many down, and squashes so many of our dreams.

Shawn Mendes sings it this way:

“And my dad said, ‘Shan, stay with me - Everything will be alright.  I know I have seen you lately, but you’re always on my mind.”

Julian of Norwich said it this way: “It is true that sin is the cause of all this pain, but all will be well, and every kind of thing will be well.”

Question for Reflection: In what area do you need help not giving up?