Wednesday, July 31, 2013
Two Graves, Jamestown, NC
If you’ve ever been wronged, either physically and/or emotionally, I suspect forgiveness isn’t top of mind for an immediate response. Emotions are on high alert and adrenaline is coursing through our veins at record speeds. Our face is flushed and the blood veins in our neck are pulsing. The sensation can be even more intense if the one who wrongs us is someone we are close to. This might explain our human fascination for revenge movies and the projected satisfaction we seem to receive when the bad guys get their just dues at the hand of the wronged person. Bad guys do need to be brought to justice, but we can personally get into a lot of trouble ourselves if we take revenge on the perpetrators. Perhaps we’re not in a position to do that, but we’re still in a position to confront them later. Do we choose to withhold forgiveness even though that holding on is destroying us internally? A wise saying from Leviticus 24:20 reminds us that if we seek revenge, we should dig two graves. Another way of looking at this is to consider the thought that this perp still has control of your life—he’s essentially living rent free in your mind.
There would seem to be a fine line between revenge and justice. Many folks who take justice into their own hands are practicing revenge. The objects of their anger may very well deserve the punishment they receive. But a civilized society needs lawful order to be successful. When we consider the big picture, I wonder if the Great Flood that destroyed all mankind except Noah’s family could have possibly been an act of revenge. The human race had used its free will to destructively turn away from their creator God. If that was to be the end result with no remorse or repentance, then why continue to attempt a relationship? However, that was a rather extreme consequence and almost eliminated the grand experiment with a promise to never try that approach again. Later, God chose to dramatically demonstrate His love for all mankind by sacrificing himself for our forgiveness. The cross was much more impactful and has somewhat sustained us for the past two thousand years, although we still have not come anywhere close to a Kingdom of God on earth.
It’s been said that an expression of sincere love manifests itself when one willingly sacrifices something of themselves. It may take the form of time, resources or self. Our creator God sacrificed Himself in the form of the “word become flesh” to obtain forgiveness for all mankind. And we have learned that while revenge extracts fearful influence through power and control, sacrificial love expended to help and uplift others wins people’s hearts and provides an unselfish joy of purpose.
Sunday, July 28, 2013
After the Storm, Carolina Beach, NC
Mark records a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee with Jesus and his disciples in the fourth chapter of his book. A great storm overcomes them while Mark reports that Jesus sleeps on a cushion in the stern. Timothy Keller notes in his book “Jesus the King” that “one of the marks of an eyewitness account is ‘irrelevant detail’--eyewitnesses record many details simply because they remember them”. This account not only validates the story as nonfiction, but validates Jesus’s power over nature when he is awakened and simply says, “Quiet! Be still!” The winds died down and although the waves remain strong for some time after a storm passes, the sea was dead calm as well.
When the disciples woke Jesus they asked him if he cared if they drowned. But he doesn’t promise any easier life for his followers than anybody else. He just promises to walk with you at all times and meet you on the other side. And that promise will provide the peace of mind that can calm the wind and waves for a purposeful voyage.
Tuesday, July 23, 2013
Winged Spirit, Jamestown, NC
Cone Flowers, Jamestown, NC
Early this summer I planted some cone flowers amongst the daylilies in my backyard pocket garden in hopes of attracting butterflies this year. Like the movie “Field of Dreams”, the plan was to “build it and they will come”. As I mowed my grass this morning, I moved into the backyard and immediately noticed a flurry of activity around the garden. The colorful winged spirits have arrived!
Monday, July 22, 2013
The Bishop's Silver, Internet Domain
In his book “The Reason for God” author Timothy Keller writes about the two principle characters in Les Miserables; “Jean Valjean is a bitter ex-convict. He steals silver from a bishop who has already shown him kindness. He is caught by gendarmes, and is brought back under arrest to the Bishop’s home. In an act of radical grace the bishop gives Valjean the silver and releases him from arrest. This act of mercy shakes him to the core…Valjean chooses to let grace have its way with him. He gives up his deep self-pity and bitterness and begins to live a life of graciousness toward others. He is changed at the root of his being. The other main character in the novel is the police officer Javert, who has built his entire life on his understanding of rewards and punishments…He relentlessly and self-righteously pursues Valjean, even though it is wrecking his own life. Finally, Javert falls into Valjean’s hands. Instead of killing him, Valjean lets his enemy go. This act of radical grace is deeply troublesome to Javert. He realizes that to appropriately respond to this gesture will require a complete change in his world view. Rather than make that change, he throws himself into the Seine. This may seem the greatest paradox of all. The most liberating act of free, unconditional grace demands that the recipient give up control of his or her life”. Many world religions believe that good acts will result in God’s acceptance, but Christianity teaches that we are accepted by God through what his Son has done for us and good acts become our willful response.
Keller notes that the members of his New York City congregation ask the question “Why would Jesus have to die to secure our forgiveness?” more often than “Does God exist?” It appears to many people that God needed a human sacrifice in the form of his Son to be appeased. But this wasn't anything like the trials of the young Cosette who was victimized and exploited by the master innkeeper and his wife or a form of "divine child abuse". We’re reminded of the Christian belief in the Trinity as Keller clarifies, “this is a God who becomes human and offers his own lifeblood in order to honor moral justice and merciful love so that someday he can destroy all evil without destroying us”. He took this suffering upon himself in an act of unconditional love and redical grace.
Sunday, July 21, 2013
Sunrise Creation, Kiawah, SC
Timothy Keller in his book “The Reason for God” writes that “Christians do not claim that their faith gives them omniscience or absolute knowledge of reality. Only God has that. But they believe that the Cristian account of things—creation, fall, redemption, and restoration—makes the most sense of the world.” Of course, that assumes the existence of God and he quotes a metaphor from C. S. Lewis who writes that he believes in God “as I believe the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else”.
Keller notes that instead of demanding irrefutable proofs for God, “we should look at what the sun shows us”. He challenges us to consider all the glimpses of love and beauty that we see in this world and imagine if there could possibly be a restored world in our future. He notes that “we are very flawed and yet very great” which could account for the claim that we were created in God’s image but fell from grace shortly thereafter. And finally, he has reasoned that “we have a deep need to know meaning and purpose. Which worldview best accounts for these things”?
Saturday, July 20, 2013
Thursday, July 18, 2013
Tuesday, July 16, 2013
Last Hour, Jamestown, NC
“If God is God, he’s not good. If God is good, he’s not God.” That’s what you will often hear from those who cannot reconcile the pain, suffering and death in this existence. Frankly, it’s a fair observation without much reflection. The world IS broken and we’re surrounded by these realities every waking day—that’s why some folks stay in bed on occasion. It’s probably one of the best arguments for atheism. But without a moral compass in the universe, how can we discern good versus evil in the first place? If there is no God in control of all this, we have no need for the notion of right and wrong. If folks argue that natural selection has left us with human beings that are predisposed to knowing the difference, then perhaps we should lay blame on natural selection that depends on the survival of the fittest, the destruction of the weakest, like we see on the Serengeti Plains of Africa or in countless acts of genocide.
I’ve considered this before, and I still think that the free will we humans enjoy has something to do with this. If we are to have a relational existence with our creator, we must have the ability to choose or reject it. If we are to attempt a good life, we must have choices that demonstrate our desire to choose goodness. If we are to fully appreciate life, we must lose it. If perfection is to be recognized, we must experience imperfection first. For this to happen, we must exist in a broken environment. But we’ve been promised that we do not walk alone and Immanuel knows our pain. His Son took this suffering upon himself during his mortal life and death on a Roman cross. And any suffering endured in this brief mortal life will render the next eternal spiritual one infinitely sweeter. Since His light, presence and service are manifested in his followers, the world still turns on its axis. But I believe that a truly living hell could be defined by eternally existing in the absence of His presence and light among those who did not choose rightly.
The Daylily can be so informative if we take the time needed to observe their short life cycle. When their time has come, they open their buds out into the hazardous world around them that’s teeming with drought, fungus, insects, wind, hail, rabbits, deer and humans. They bravely give life their best shot and proudly display their colors to provide us human beings a glimpse of beauty personified. Then life begins to withdraw as they fade into the darkening nighttime with the hope of a bright resurrection sometime in the future. Christianity does not have definitive scientific proof for the existence of God or a promised spiritual life after death. Reasoned faith is a requisite. But it does provide the hope and courage to weather the storms and successfully emerge on the other side where all mankind and nature are restored in a new heaven and earth. Jesus’ miracles involving death, physical and mental disabilities, disease, chaotic nature, etc., didn’t simply suspend the natural order, but demonstrated his power to restore it. And I’ll bet there will be Daylilies present that will have to be renamed!
Sunday, July 14, 2013
Equilateral, Internet Domain
In Euclidean geometry, the equilateral triangle has all three sides equal with all three internal angles equal and congruent to each other. Among all the world’s religions, Christianity is the only faith that teaches that God is one being that exists as three; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Each being in this Trinity delights in and glorifies the other. This Triumvirate has related to each other for all eternity. When the Son was challenged by the religious leaders of the time regarding which of all the commandments and laws was the greatest, he simply responded that we should love God and others, i.e., we should be relational. After all, we were created in God’s image so we should expect parallels in our being. We aren’t here simply as a part of God’s creation, but to share in creating while relating to our creator.
Self-giving or other-centered love versus self-centeredness is at the center of our universe. To be in touch with this universe, Jesus taught that we must lose ourselves in service to find ourselves. When we’re immersed in ourselves, we find that life becomes rather purposeless and futile. A good test to find the cure is to reach out to someone that we can help in some way. It’s amazing how quickly the focus on ourselves dissipates as we share something of ourselves for another fellow journeyman. And a joy of living enters our life to replace the unsatisfying pursuit of happiness through materialism, worldly power and recognition. This model for joyous living was revealed through the Son whose ultimate self-giving sacrifice was for the benefit of all mankind.
Thursday, July 11, 2013
In the Pulpit, Emporia, KS
I recently returned to my hometown church in central Kansas where I was first exposed to the love of God and the sacrifice of His son. I was there on the occasion of my niece’s wedding and I was honored to read scripture for the ceremony. The old limestone Lutheran church was the scene of many Sunday School lessons, good times at Vacation Bible School where we learned the old biblical stories of great adventures and acts of faith (and literally drank the Kool-Aid and ate homemade sugar cookies), memorized and recited good news bible passages about the birth of a savior, fidgeted and squirmed in pews with our parents during the adult services under open windows in the summer, spent vacation days apart from friends who were at baseball games and fishing holes to study for confirmation, and witnessed baptisms, weddings and funerals.
I've carried small white knuckle scars with me my entire life as a result of having my legs mysteriously slip out from under me as my cousin and I were running through the church on some long forgotten childhood week day. The memory is still quite vivid sixty years later, as I was caught completely off guard. I knew we shouldn’t be running through the church and certainly the sanctuary. When I looked down at my knuckles, they were red with fresh blood, as if I had just been whacked with a ruler by an unseen teacher for my rude behavior. It occurred to me that perhaps I actually had been disciplined right there on the spot—and I became more respectful and never ran in church again. Isn’t it funny how those little life lessons stick with us?
Given my rambunctious and adventurous life at the time, it was no surprise to see the response of my classmates as we were finishing our confirmation classes one hot summer morning. Our senior pastor had asked for a show of hands if any of us thought that we might consider doing God’s work when we got older. Since everyone was raising their hands, I sort of moved my hand up so that I wasn’t the odd man out. That solicited a very predictable response from my male peers around the table; “Are you kidding”? “Do you seriously think you might be in a pulpit someday”??? Well, it took about fifty five years to return to that particular pulpit downstairs from our classroom, but I have the proof! And I’ve actually delivered a message from the pulpit in the recent past as I turned the printed pages with arthritic fingers tinged with faint white scars. Many times God uses the least likely candidates to manifest his word in this life so that the divine source is readily apparent. And I still think somebody tripped me in that stairwell, even though I was the only mortal in there at the time!
Monet Water Lilies, Chicago, IL
It’s been observed that the underlying beauty to be found in this world is a testament for the existence of the Divine Mind that created it. From a personal perspective, the very uplifting observations we ourselves experience gives us a sense that life is not meaningless and there is purpose, organization, and something to trust in this reality. These “aha” moments can be found in the silence of a Midwestern sunrise over the rolling inland sea of tall prairie grasses, the straight line view of a brilliant sunset that illuminates covering clouds on the horizon of a vast ocean, the captivating music of a composer that was gifted with the ability to follow every note with the only possible note that could lift your spirit, the emotive choice of a word picture that absolutely describes a life changing revelation or the metered words of timeless poetry, the precise brush strokes that could hold your gaze for an eternity with the exact composition and color that perfectly suits your eye, the complex and mysterious spiraling DNA strands now seen via microbiology, or the infinite, expanding universe viewed through a deep space telescope that enables us to comprehend the extraordinary depth and precise balance of all matter.
Not everything in this present broken world is beautiful. But we see in life what we look for and we can work to see the inner beauty of many and improve the blighted landscape of our circle of influence. And glimpses of great art and beauty that we intuitively recognize when it enters our consciousness lights the path to creating a better world. It affirms a greater power in this existence and confirms that eternal truth and love will prevail in a beautiful, restored spiritual life that has been created for all of us.
Monday, July 1, 2013
God's Side, Internet Domain
Gettysburg Cemetery, Internet Domain
“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal…We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth”. --–President Abraham Lincoln’s address at the dedication of the Soldier’s Cemetery in Gettysburg, November 19, 1863
This July 1 to July 3 marks the passage of 150 years since 165,000 men of the US Army and the Confederate force faced one another in 1863 across a farm field around a Pennsylvania town named after James Gettys. More than 50,000 would be causalities in some form and around 9,000 would be killed as the ravine dissecting the field was said to run red with blood on those three days. That somber statistic represents six times the carnage encountered years later on D-Day, June 6, 1944, on the beaches of France. The contentious issue of slavery was at the epicenter of this civil war and had been deferred during the eighty seven years after Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence in 1776. The new coalition of states was supposedly united in the cause of freedom from tyrannical rule and the “self-evident truth that all men are created equal”.
Thomas Jefferson had actually drafted and submitted legislation to Congress to begin abolishing slavery in America, but it was defeated by only one vote. As president he introduced legislation to end the importation of slaves, but it would seem that he was later resigned to the culture of his time and pressing the absolution cause would undermine his credibility to influence any other cause. He later wrote that “we see the fate of millions unborn hanging on the tongue of one man, and Heaven was silent in that awful moment! But it is to be hoped it will not always be silent and that the friends to the rights of human nature will in the end prevail”. Jefferson the politian began to “kick the can down the road” (sound familiar?) and talked about postponing a resolution for the next generation.
People defending slavery in those days used biblical scripture to make their point. Slavery was an integral part of first century culture as Jesus walked the dusty roads of ancient Israel. But his primary mission was to secure redemption for all mankind. Cultural norms such as slavery and the subordination of women were left for future generations to resolve—even though they did not reflect God’s heart and will. Later, in one of his letters to the early Christians at Ephesus, Paul writes “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear…Masters, treat your slaves in the same way…remember, you both have the same Master in heaven, and he has no favorites”. Slave owners were quick to quote the first line of this passage. Redemption infers buying back from captivity by paying a ransom. In Old Testament times, the lives of mortal sinners were redeemed by animal blood sacrifices on stone alters. Jesus redeemed the lives of all mankind with his blood sacrifice on a brutal Roman cross. Thousands of Americans redeemed the deferred American dream of freedom for millions of slaves with their blood sacrifice on the battleground of a Gettysburg farm field.
The contentious battle ended on a hot and humid July 3 day after the Confederate army was repulsed in an extraordinarily dicey decision by General Lee to challenge the center of the Union defenses. Picket’s Charge seemed to be doomed from the outset and it is said that cannon shot left human extremities, guns and knapsacks tossed into the clear air above a dense cloud of smoke and dust. Years later when General Picket was asked why his charge failed, he replied “I’ve always thought the Yankees had something to do with it”. And perhaps heaven was not silent on this day.