Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Make Humility, Great Again

Some people love golf.  I love school.

And so, I'm regularly in a classroom, auditing this semester, for example, "The Letters and Theology of Paul" taught by Dr. Michael Gorman, at St. Marys Seminary and University. 

On Monday, we entered the book of Philippians, and it was akin to experiencing a master class with the master apostle, Paul. For Philippians -- like the best master classes -- is an immersion, with an exceptional mentor (e.g., Paul) -- allowing one to encounter choice aspects of the mentor’s repertoire.  

And that's what Philippians affords, as one experiences a prime narrative for Paul: the church as a missional, contrast community.

The framework for Paul’s master-class is found in the Christ-poem in Philippians 2:5-11.
“Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. 
When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion. 
Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth—even those long ago dead and buried—will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father.  (Philippians 2: 5-11, The Message)
These verses outline the whole of Philippians, surfacing the letter's mega-themes: 1) mindfulness; 2) participation; 3) self-emptying; 4) enslavement; 5) humility; 6) particularity; 7) victory -- all pointing to the necessity of being in Christ -- in community -- in contrast -- to the self-exalting culture of Adam and Rome.

The theme of humility is especially striking. For as John Dickson points out, humility was far from a virtue in the Philippian context. In fact, in the Greco-Roman world, the word humility was roughly equivalent to ‘crushed’ or ‘debased,’ associated with failure and shame. As Dickson goes on to note,
“…in the 147 pithy maxims of the Delphic Canon from the 6th century BC, considered by ancient Greeks to be the sum and substance of the ethical life, there is no mention of the theme of… "humility"…In its place [is the theme] "the love of honor."
A prioritizing of honor, rather than humility, continues; our current trajectory is upward mobility, not downward mobility, underscoring personal privilege and status. 

An often-cited example is the prioritizing of the U.S. and its greatness (e.g. 'Make America Great'). Why, the rhetoric in direction, in particular, is on 'steroids,' as persons work overtime to 'shout others down,' in an attempt to elevate the U.S. nation-state to new levels of 'greatness.' 

But, frankly, the 'shouting' rebounds across our highly polarized society -- on any number of issues -- with more name-calling and mean-spirited innuendo, gossip -- even slander -- than in recent memory.  

Often, such a mean-spiritedness is lived out through the nasty habit of name-calling.  A while back, Quartz, itemized 'popular' pejorative words, current in the U.S. political system, used by both liberals and conservatives.  What resulted was not flattering.

And this is just a partial listing of 'name-calling,' leaving out popular terms that, frankly, are profane.  And so, for starters, in our quest for greater humility, we can humble our language, curbing our tongue, in line with the admonition of scripture:  
"...Never let ugly or hateful words come from your mouth, but instead let your words become beautiful gifts that encourage others; do this by speaking words of grace to help them..."  (Ephesians 4:29, The Passion Translation)
But as severe as our current arrogant speech and action is, it is not a recent phenomenon.  As David Brooks, argued at the 2012 Aspen Ideas Festival our current hubris bias started in the 60s’ in the move toward sexual liberation, and in the ’80s in the bent toward personal financial liberation. 

Both, Brooks argued, were “…ways of separating the individual from the community, celebrating self rather than the whole.”  But the humble person, Brooks contends “…has the ability to become unselved.”

 Paul agrees -- humility unselves.

But not humility alone, but humility in Christ. For an attitudinal mind-shift is inadequate unless empowered by a transcendent mind-shift, cultivating the “…same mind…that was in Christ-Jesus…”  (Philippians 2:5). 

As Michael Gorman has pointed out, this cruciform mind-shift is radically, divinely, comprehensively, participatory. For as Paul calls us to cultivate the same mind that was in Christ Jesus, Paul is calling us to cultivate a missional vocation:
“…[a] way of thinking, acting, and feeling – in [our] community, which is in fact a community in Messiah Jesus…” (Michael Gorman. Apostle of the Crucified Lord. Grand Rapids:  Wm Eerdmans, 2017, p. 504.).
Such an outward focus, in Christ, is transformational, as it underscores a key theme in Philippians, that: “….the Philippians [are not to] merely to believe this gospel,” as Michael Gorman stresses “…but to become that gospel, and thereby to ‘shine like stars in the world’ (2:15), and advance the gospel…”  (Michael Gorman. Apostle of the Crucified Lord. Grand Rapids:  Wm Eerdmans, 2017, p. 488.).

Such a missional vocation can indeed give us the ability to become unselved, as it calls the individual back to the community, to celebrate the whole. Rather than accenting triumphalism and independence, it underscores servanthood and interdependence – elevating not ‘Rome’ and dominant culture – but -- Jesus and contrast culture.

As I was completing this blog entry, I took a Facebook break, and 'coincidentally' (perhaps, 'providentially') a contrast culture quote appeared in my newsfeed; it's from Stephen Mattson:
"Sometimes, being a good Christian meant being a bad Roman.  So before you accuse people of being unpatriotic, ask yourself which empire they're actually serving."
Ouch!  But, wow!! -- what a prophetic, accurate word, of what it truly means to be humble, before not only each other but God. For at the heart of Christian obedience is radical surrender and enslavement to the only One, truly worthy, to lord-over life; the One we give-over, our very selves.  

Again, the Jesus of Philippians 2:5-11, models for us, the way forward; a Jesus who...
“…did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave…[humbling]…himself…[becoming] obedient to the point of death…” (Philippians 2:6-8).
One of the most triumphal human achievements, was the first summitting of Mount Everest by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzin Norgay, in 1953. An unreported aspect of their trek, however, was the symbol Hillary took with him and buried on Everest’s summit:  a small crucifix. 

As John Dickson reflects, the reason is unclear; Hillary was not an overtly religious man. But “…perhaps it was a token of his own humility, trying to honor a "higher power" at the moment of his greatest triumph…”

Sir Edmund Hillary’s tokenism is our tokenism. For, we do keep striving, climbing. 

But as we do, humility beckons and intrigues. 

For, perhaps, the ultimate summit, the ultimate triumph -- is found not on the heights -- but in the depths of human need -- in community -- in contrast -- in Christ

Friday, March 22, 2019

The New Resolve, New Zealand, Summons

Today is the one-week anniversary of the horrific mosque massacres in Christchurch, in New Zealand.

The details are staggering:  50 persons dead, and over 20 persons injured, in 2 mass shootings, in 2 mosques. 

But the response of New Zealand's Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern is stirring

For starters, As the New York Times reported, Ardern announced on Thursday,  "...a national ban on all military-style semiautomatic weapons, all high-capacity ammunition magazines and all parts that allow weapons to be modified into the kinds of guns used in last week’s attack..."

And then today, Ardern led a time of solidarity, as "...people across New Zealand observed the Muslim call to thousands gathered in Hagley Park opposite the city's Al Noor [announced]  'We are one'...[as] thousands more listened on the radio or watched on television. The prayer was followed by two minutes of silence..."

Wow!  Pretty impressive leadership, in just a week's time.  

Such leadership calls forth a new resolve, in all of us, to take new, decisive, steps toward the curbing of guns -- and -- the curbing of prejudice toward those different from us -- in particular -- those of the Muslim faith.   

Specific action steps, flow from such resolve -- that we pray -- result in new gains toward peace and civility, on a globe, so violent and uncivil. 

Call To Action #1 -- Halt A Prejudicial, Punitive Outlook, On Those Different

Have you noticed:  we tend to be threatened by those different from us? The result: a suspicion of 'the other' -- and a tendency -- to think the worst.  

The vilification of Muslims has been especially pronounced.  For example, just in the U.S. alone, discrimination and harassment of Muslims are on the rise.  As the Council On American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has reported:
"...[There has been]...a 17 percent increase in anti-Muslim bias incidents nationwide in 2017 over 2016. This was accompanied by a 15 percent increase in hate crimes targeting American Muslims, including children, youth, and families, over the same period. Of particular alarm is the fact that federal government agencies instigated 35 percent of all anti-Muslim bias incidents recorded in 2017. This represents an almost unprecedented level of government hostility toward a religious minority within the United States, and is counter to the American value of religious freedom..."  
I'm guessing this stems from the assumption that any Muslim is a potential terrorist, especially after 9/11.  But that logic has proven woefully fallacious in the past.

For example, in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, many Japanese residents in the U.S. were assumed to be 'the enemy,' as well.  The result: Executive Order 9066, issued by Franklin Roosevelt, leading to the internment of hundreds of Japanese U.S. residents, many of whom were U.S. citizens, in inhuman camps.   As the U.S. Archives records this chapter of U.S. history:  
"...Roosevelt's order affected 117,000 people of Japanese descent, two-thirds of whom were native-born citizens of the United States...As four or five families with their sparse collections of clothing and possessions squeezed into and shared tar-papered barracks, life took on some familiar routines of socializing and school. However, eating in common facilities and having limited opportunities for work interrupted other social and cultural patterns..." 
Not surprisingly, the result was great injury to thousands of established Americans.  In response, in 1988, the U.S. Congress passed the Civil Liberties Acts, financially compensating affected Japanese Americans for their ordeal.  But only after a presidential commission in 1982 concluded that the internment program was a colossal failure of political leadership, stemming from war hysteria and racial prejudice.

The current wave of prejudice against Muslims is of a similar stripe:  failure of leadership, bathed in hysteria and prejudice.

We must resolve, not to participate.

Call To Action #2 -- Eliminate The Availability Of Weapons That Do Wide Harm 

One can make a case for a hunting rifle -- but not -- military-style semiautomatic weapons, or weapons with high-capacity ammunition magazines.   

And so, just as New Zealand's Prime Minister came to that conclusion and announced plans for a ban on such weapons, with dispatch -- other world leaders could also act, with dispatch, and implement similar action.

For how much more evidence do we need, that dire action is needed, now! 

This week, Nicholas Kristof suggested four practical steps that could occur rapidly, if U.S. lawmakers adopted the resolve and pragmatism of the New Zealand Prime Minister.  
"... [1.Gun Laws]...When Connecticut tightened licensing laws in 1995, firearm homicide rates dropped by 40 percent. And when Missouri eased gun laws in 2007, gun homicide rates surged by 25 percent...[2. Background Checks]...Astonishingly, about 22 percent of guns in the U.S. are still acquired without a background check. In parts of the U.S., you need a more thorough background check to adopt a dog than to acquire a semiautomatic AR-15 weapon...[3. 'Red-Flag' Laws]...Keep guns out of the hands of people shown to present a danger to themselves or others, such as when they are suicidal or threatening a domestic partner...[4. Smart Guns]. We should likewise invest more in “smart guns” that can be fired only by an authorized person; it’s outrageous that my phone requires a pin or fingerprint but that an AR-15 doesn’t..."
Overall, we need to conclude that we can protect ourselves, without weaponry that is designed to slaughter and massacre.  Paul calls us to such new reality in 2 Corinthians 10:
"...For although we live in the natural realm, we don’t wage a military campaign employing human weapons...Instead, our spiritual weapons are energized with divine power to effectively dismantle the defenses behind which people hide...Since we are armed with...dynamic weaponry..." (2 Corthinians 10:3-6, The Passion Translation)

Call To Action #3 --  Resolve:  That If Any One Of Us Suffers, We All Suffer

I found it significant that Jacinda Ardern's call to pray today was in conjunction with the accustomed Muslim time of prayer -- and -- that as the New Zealand Prime Minister entered into prayer -- she declared: "New Zealand mourns with you. We are one...and then, two minutes of silence.

Though we must not suggest that specific, significant religious convictions do not exist between Christians and Muslims -- we can as Christians and Muslims affirm our common humanity -- and -- our common rootage in Abrahamic faith.   
"...[For, along with Judaism, Christianity and Islam are] linked to one common religious tradition that goes as far back as the time of the patriarchal prophet Abraham. This underlying religious tradition forms the solid foundation on which all three religions have built upon over the course of history, and from which each has developed different beliefs and ideals that set them apart from others.
And so, though we differ, we are also united, in a common identity as children of God.  And as such, we live out the love of God, compelling us to...
"...Hate what is evil; cling to what is good...Honor one another above yourselves...Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer...Practice hospitality...Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. (Romans 12:9-15).
And so we continue to mourn with our sisters and brothers in New Zealand.

But also motivated and resolved, to take new action toward stifling weapons of massacre -- and -- any threat, to any, of God's children!   

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

What I Learned (Or Re-Learned) At The Marriage Enrichment Seminar (After 30+ Years!)

I'm guessing, it's been over thirty years since I've been to a marriage enrichment seminar.

But there, I was last month, at Central Presbyterian's (where Robin serves as organist) 'Satur-Date' event.

And it was exceptional!

It really was.  The ambiance was special.  The food was terrific (even with vegetarian options).  The main presenter was so well informed.  The dramas were unpredictable and real-ly funny.  The resources were innovative and fresh.  The age span, wide-ranging and varied.

And we even won a giveaway (a thirty-dollar gift certificate) for having the most persons at our wedding (over 400, because of all our church connections; one congregation even chartered a bus!).

I especially loved that we weren't seated with couples our own age.  I mean, it was great:  everyone was younger, with the same question aimed in our direction: does it get any easier?  Our answer: it gets better...but not necessarily, easier!  

And so...even veteran married folk, like me, need to keep learning.  And so, I was thankful for some new (and/or neglected) insights 'spouting up,' that Saturday night.

Satur-Date Truth #1 -- Marriage Is A People-Growing-Machine

Please note:  marriage is not the only incubator for human-growth.  But marriage is a prime opportunity for those who do wed, to 'grow-up' into fuller expressions, of the fullness of Jesus. 

I'm guessing, that's why scripture speaks so passionately about the sacredness of marriage and the holy intimacy, reserved for its covenant.

Covenant is critical, for without intentionality-of-bond, before God, an 'anything goes' mentality can sweep us away, into self-centered fulfillment, and pleasure.

Currently, I'm reading an overview of Pauline thought:  Apostle Of The Crucified Lord, by Michael Gorman.  In this marvelous book, Dr. Gorman notes, that instead of a covenantal view of marriage and sexuality, persons, even within the early church, were adopting a permissive, individualistic way of life.  Corinthian Believers were the worst, making little or no connection between Spirit and Body -- convinced -- even a Christ-follower could do anything he or she wanted with his or her body.

But Paul passionately disagreed. "...There's more to sex than mere skin on skin..." Paul argues in 1 Corinthians. 
“…Sex is as much spiritual mystery as physical fact. As written in Scripture, “The two become one.” Since we want to become spiritually one with the Master, we must not pursue the kind of sex that avoids commitment and intimacy…Didn’t you realize that your body is a sacred place, the place of the Holy Spirit? Don’t you see that you can’t live however you please, squandering what God paid such a high price for? The physical part of you is not some piece of property…God owns the whole works. So let people see God in and through your body.  (1 Corinthians 6: 16-20, The Message).
Thus, as delightful as the sexual component is in marriage, it is not the primary component.  The prime component is a greater spiritual connection with the Divine, as three entities join in the marriage covenant:  woman, man, and the Creator of woman and man -- the One, True, God.

And so, it's as we grow-up to God, that we indeed grow, and marriage becomes a people-growing machine.

Satur-Date Truth #2 -- Women And Men Are Equal, Mutually Accountable, One To The Other.

A confession:  as a Baby-Boomer, I've acted like our generation solved the problems of the world! Why we solved racism through Martin Luther King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference --  we solved militarism, through anti-war marches and other protests against the Vietnam war -- and we solved sexism through Gloria Steinem and the feminist movement of the 1960s.

But boy, am I wrong.  Because in spite of Baby-Boomer activism -- racism, militarism, and sexism are greater today than ever before!

All three 'isms' can impact a marriage, but especially sexism.  I mean, in spite of advances in 'leveling the playing field,' between women and men, there is more patriarchy in marriage (and the larger culture) than ever before.

Patriarchy?  What's that?  In essence:  it's the view that men are the superior gender, with women, in turn, weaker and subservient, by virtue, of their created order, at Creation.  It certainly appears that way from an initial read of Genesis 2:19ff
"...Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky…But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs…Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.  (Genesis 2:19-24, emphasis added)
The operative word in this passage is 'helper,' which in Hebrew, is the word, kĕnegdô. A careful word study of kĕnegdô reveals -- however -- not a sense of subordinate servanthood, but co-equal servanthood.  As Marg Mowczko has pointed out:
"...The ideas expressed in kĕnegdô are of similarity, correspondence, mutuality, equality. There is not [a]...sense of subordination here. The idea of similarity continues with the man’s description of the first woman. When he sees her for the first time he doesn’t remark on their differences, he comments on their profound similarities and kinship: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh . . .” (Gen 2:23a)..."
The classic Biblical sage, Matthew Henry echos such similarity in his classic commentary on Genesis 2 -- often quoted:
"...That the woman was made of a rib out of the side of Adam; not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved..." 

Satur-Date Truth #3 -- We Die To Live 

And so the image of 'helper' in Genesis 2:19ff is really a mutual call -- to both husband and wife -- to serve one another.  

Frankly, a big part of such service is sacrifice -- as we die to self-centeredness -- and rise Christ-centeredness.   Paul says it so well, in Galatians 2:
 “…I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me…”  (Galatians 2:20) 
Just as Christ gave himself to us, we are to give ourselves, to each other, in costly ways. Marriage that 'goes the distance' is the marriage 'goes the second mile' -- as each marital partner thinks more of the needs of their spouse, than their own priorities.

A practical expression of such sacrifice, advanced at the Satur-Date, was learning each others 'love language.'  For example, in my own marriage, I need to hear the language of affirmation, lots of affirmation!  Whereas, Robin, needs to hear (and see) the language of practical deeds of service.  

Frankly, I don't naturally speak Robin's love language and resist articulating it.  But, over the years, I've learned that if I truly desire to serve my wife -- I need to sacrifice for my wife -- and learn another language -- her love language.  For more on love language and marriage, access the link that follows:

Overall, the Satur-Date emphasized that marriages falter because of a failure of imagination.  I agree -- especially the imagination of Christ, who truly modeled the life of sacrifice and servant-love.  Is it any wonder, Paul goes on to challenges married folk...

“….Wives understand and support your husbands in ways that show your support for Christ. The husband provides leadership to his wife the way Christ does to his church, not by domineering but by cherishing...Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church—a love marked by giving, not getting. 
Christ’s love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness. And that is how husbands ought to love their wives. They’re really doing themselves a favor—since they’re already “one” in marriage. (Ephesians 5: 22-28, The Message)

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

"We're Not Going To Crash -- We're Going To Philadelphia!"

A last National Prayer Breakfast (NPB) story.

In this instance, the story of Tammy Jo Shults, who spoke at the last meal event of the NPB.  You might remember:  Tammy was the pilot of Southwest flight 1380, that blew an engine last April, as it ascended to 32,000 feet, after taking off from New York's LaGuardia airport.  As Shults reported the incident to The Washington Post:
“...We had a large bang and a rapid decompression. The aircraft yawed and banked to the left, a little over 40 degrees, and we had a very severe vibration from the number one engine that was shaking everything.  And that all kind of happened all at once..."
Passengers understandably, had varied reactions, including panic.  But Shults was centered, exhibiting, in the words of one observer, 'nerves of steel.'

Certainly, her Navy fighter pilot training helped a lot, but as Tammy reflected at the NPR, her faith played a significant, contributing role.  An earlier interview on CBS also revealed that element, impacting not only Tammy but a majority of the crew.  
"...Well, in LaGuardia, when we had a little extra time, we were chatting, and Rachel [a flight attendant] had gotten a new Bible with room to journal on the side, and she and Seanique [a flight attendant] and then Kathryn [a flight attendant] was talking about she was in a study of Psalms, which is where I'm doing a study in Psalms and Proverbs," Shults said of the meeting the crew had before the flight. "When you talk about things deeper than the weather, your family and faith, the things that matter to you, even if they're different, it tends to bring a bond..." 
As CBS went on to report:  "That shared faith among the crew, who had never flown together before, didn't just bond them; it created a sense of communal calm."  

In the course of the interview, Tammy and crew went on to name the source of their calm:  the peace of God, that passes understanding.  The Apostle Paul describes well, the grip and guard of such solace:   
"...Don’t worry over anything whatever; tell God every detail of your needs in earnest and thankful prayer, and the peace of God which transcends human understanding, will keep constant guard over your hearts and minds as they rest in Christ Jesus..." (Philippians 4:6-7, J.B. Phillips, emphasis added).
Especially striking is the image of God's peace, keeping guard.  This image would have 'jumped out' for Paul's readers, for as the Expositor's Greek New Testament notes:
"....One of the most important elements in the history of the Hellensitic period was the garrisoning of cities both in Greece and Asia Minor by the successors of Alexander the Great. 
[And so, ancient people 'got' Paul image and emphasis].  The peace of God is the garrison of the soul in all the experiences of its life, defending it from the external assaults of temptation or anxiety and discipling lawless desires and imaginations within, that war against the higher purposes...Christ Jesus is the sure refuge, and the atmosphere of security..."  - The Expositor's Greek New Testament, p. 467-468.  
Did you catch the detailed impact of God's peace?

  • God's peace -- defends the soul from temptation
  • God's peace -- defends the soul from anxiety
  • God's peace -- defends the soul from lawless desires
  • God's peace -- defends the soul from lawless imaginations
  • God's peace -- advances Jesus, our sure refuge
  • God's peace -- advances Jesus, the atmosphere of security

Wow!  No, wonder Tammy Jo Shults and her crew were able to land Southwest Flight 1380 with only one engine.  They were defended from all that could have undercut and distracted their efforts:

  • The temptation to fear the worst  
  • The anxiety of panic-stricken people
  • The unbridled desire to just 'cave' and quit
  • The imagination of a 'crash and burn' outcome

And so, rather than dread and certain doom, Tammy and her crew were able to offer help and certain hope.

Their mantra was consistent, clear, and blunt:  we're not going to crash -- we're going to Philadelphia!

And they kept repeating it over and over and over again. In fact, more than one of the stewardesses 'got in the face' of a passenger to drive home the message: we're not going to crash -- we're going to Philadelphia.

And it worked.  For when you have a destination, there's always hope.  And when there is hope, you can survive anything!

Recently, as I've encountered any number of hope-less persons, I've returned to the famed words of Victor Frankel in his book, Man's Search For Meaning:
“...Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way...” 
Victor Frankel should know.  As a prisoner in the infamous Nazi concentration 'death' camp, Auschwitz, Frankel was surrounded by the most hellish conditions, imaginable.  As the Jewish Virtual Library notes:
"...Dampness, leaky roofs, and the fouling of straw and straw mattresses by prisoners suffering from diarrhea made difficult living conditions worse. The barracks swarmed with various sorts of vermin and rats. A constant shortage of water for washing, and the lack of suitable sanitary facilities, aggravated the situation..."
And then there was the forced labor and constant threat of gassing.  Yet, Frankel continued to marshal his attitude, not allowing any circumstance take that element away, as he continued to imagine continued meaning, hope, light -- even in the darkest circumstance.
"...We were at work in a trench. The dawn was grey around us; grey was the sky above; grey the snow...grey the rags in which my fellow prisoners were clad, and grey their faces...In a last violent protest against the hopelessness of imminent death, I sensed my spirit piercing through the enveloping gloom. I felt it transcend that hopeless, meaningless world, and from somewhere I heard a victorious “Yes” in answer to my question of the existence of an ultimate purpose. At that moment a light was lit in a distant farmhouse, which stood on the horizon as if painted there, in the midst of the miserable grey of a dawning morning in Bavaria. “Et lux in tenebris lucet” — and the light shineth in the darkness..."
That's how Tammy Jo Shults and her crew kept Southwest flight 1380 aloft last April:  they kept shouting 'yes.'

Specifically, the shouted:  yes, we're going to Philadelphia -- when everything else was shouting we're going to crash.

They kept pointing to the light when everything else pointed to the dark.

No matter your 'death camp,' no matter your engine failure, Jesus is pointing to the light, Jesus is saying yes!

Oh -- your circumstances might not change -- but you can still survive, in spite of your circumstance -- because of the yes, and light of God. I love the way Apostle Paul nets this out in 2 Corinthians 1:
“…We don’t want you in the dark, friends, about how hard it was when [we traveled through Western Turkey]...It was so bad we didn’t think we were going to make it. We felt like we’d been sent to death row, that it was all over for us. As it turned out, it was the best thing that could have happened. Instead of trusting in our own strength or wits to get out of it, we were forced to trust God totally—not a bad idea since he’s the God who raises the dead! And he did it, rescued us from certain doom. And he’ll do it again, rescuing us as many times as we need rescuing…” (2 Corinthians 1:8-10, The Message, emphasis added).
God does rescue!

For even if we lose everything -- we do not lose Him.

For even in the darkest circumstance -- the light and yes of God, still resound.  

Giving us reason to keep heading for Philadelphia -- even when it feels, for certain -- we're going down.  

For the God we worship, 'raises the dead' -- giving sure refuge, an atmosphere of security -- no matter what engine 'blows' in life! 

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Sometimes Hero -- Sometimes Heartache

It's Valentines Day...and I'm thinking a lot about hearts -- but also -- heartache.

It's in large measure because, I'm still thinking about Gary Haugen's address at the National Prayer Breakfast.  Frankly, Gary turned things in a direction, I'd never thought about -- or -- frankly, comprehended.  

One of his more provocative, unpredictable statements:  none of us are perfect, pure; we all take turns being the hero - and -- the heartache.

As reported by The Christian Post:
"...Haugen charged that the admonition of Scripture is not only to 'not give up in doing right, -- but also -- to not give up 'in humbly seeking what is right.' 'Because I can miss it,' he said. 'This is the great tragic and gracious story of our nation. God worked through great heroes to bring waves of freedom, prosperity, and justice like the world had ever known.' But at the same time, he said, those same heroes didn’t have the moral vision to share those blessings with the rest of the world. Still, God uses 'messy men and woman' to advance His Kingdom, and bring righteousness and justice to the world. 'We are, in alternating moments, allowed to be His heroes and His heartache...”    (emphasis added)
Did you catch that last phrase:  "...we are in alternating moments, allowed to be [God's] heroes and His heartache..."

Translated:  there's no one crusader with a consistently righteous, 'all-together' solution/message.

We've all sinned and come short of the glory and rightness of God.  Thus, pronounced humility, not a pronounced bravo, should mark our talk and stride.

One of the most alarming illustrations provided by Gary Haugen, of 'sometimes hero, sometimes heartache' -- was the famed Women's Suffrage Movement.  Why, if ever there was a hero movement, it was the Suffrage movement, as it sought to establish the full equality of women.  Praise God!

But as Brent Staples of the New York Times, recently noted, the Suffrage movement was also a heartache moment, at times, to countless African-American women.
"...[For example] in  1913...organizers of a huge suffragist parade in Washington demanded that black participants march in an all-black assembly at the back of the parade instead of with their state delegations. [Ida] Wells famously refused. [Mary] Terrell, who marched in a colored delegation as requested, believed at the time that white suffragists would exclude black women from the 19th Amendment — nicknamed the Anthony Amendment — if they thought they could get away with it. These episodes fueled within the African-American community a lasting suspicion of white suffragists and of the very idea of political cooperation across racial lines... "
I never knew that.  Why I always thought the Women's Suffrage Movement did no wrong.

Not so.

Frankly, they did a lot right, gaining the support of luminaries such as Frederick Douglas. But as Staples points out, even the laudable Women's Suffrage Movement had 'blind spots,' lacking consistency.

The point:  we all have our 'blind spots' and lack consistency.

Thus, rather than pouncing on each other -- and vilifying each other -- as the scourge of the earth -- we would be better served to frame each other as 'fellow travelers and strugglers' -- fellow sinners -- in the quest for a more just, humane, redeemed creation -- desperately in need of grace.

For we're all irregular, 'mixed' bags.  I mean, go figure:

  • Prophet Elijah – Was suicidal
  • Apostle Paul -- Persecuted innocent people
  • Reformation Leader Martin Luther -- Was Anti-Semitic  
  • Bible Translator J.B. Phillips -- Suffered depression
  • Reformed Theologian Pastor R.C. Sproul -- Was addicted to tobacco
  • Mission Pioneer Bob Pierce -- Struggled with anger management 
  • Civil Rights Prophet Martin Luther King -- Committed adultery 
  • Preacher's Preacher Charles Stanley -- Wrecked his marriage, resulting in divorce

Yet, God used such people, and still uses such people -- to be heroes of faith -- in spite of their heartache.

Please hear me:  I'm not condoning or excusing 'heart-ache' behavior.  In fact, when it happens to a Christian leader, there needs to be an extended time-out for soul-searching, redemption, and accountability.

But I am affirming:  all have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) -- yes, eligible for the judgment of God -- but also -- the forgiveness of God, even further utilization by God -- as one surrenders to God, and God's boundaries, willing to receive God's grace.

And so self-righteous posturing that suggests that 'I have the corner on truth,' and have never violated truth (e.g., sinned) -- pegging you, conclusively, as the final heartache -- is far from the approach of God.

Again, please hear me:  God does not excuse sin or gloss over sin's atrocity and terror.

But neither does God position sin as the irrevocable death sentence on our lives.  Rather, God offers a way beyond sin, in Christ.
"...Here it is in a nutshell: Just as one person [Adam] did it wrong and got us in all this trouble with sin and death [e.g. the habit/pattern of self-righteous, egotistical behavior] -- another person [Jesus] did it right and got us out of it. But more than just getting us out of trouble, he got us into life! One man [Adam] said no to God and put many people in the wrong; one man [Jesus] said yes to God and put many in the right...Sin...doesn’t, have a chance in competition with the aggressive forgiveness we call grace. When it’s sin versus grace, grace wins hands down....Grace, because God is putting everything together again through the Messiah, invites us into life—a life that goes on and on and on, world without end." (emphasis added).  (Romans 5:12-21, The Message)
I love that last phrase:  God is putting everything together again through the Messiah! 

And so, in a world, bifurcated -- divided -- polarized -- presumptuous -- self-righteous -- divided -- God offers His aggressive forgiveness, His grace - as a way to unite us, nevertheless.

On this Valentines Day, I want to encourage us to allow God to unite us, through His grace, nevertheless.

And then, for us, in turn, to show grace to one another, rather than being so ungracious, as if we're never the heartache, only the hero.

For if we're honest, we're all heartache and hero, taking turns, as both bane or blessing.

Thus, all of us need grace, amazing grace, seeing each other, ultimately, through a mercy-full lens.

This week includes not only Valentines Day, but Abraham Lincoln's birthday.   Speaking at his 2nd Inaugural, Lincoln was speaking in the midst of one of the most contentious, bitter, self-righteous heartache-seasons in our country, with most viewing self, as only the hero.

Rising to such an occasion, Lincoln was both brave and prophetic speaking these words.
“…Neither party [North and South] expected for the war, the magnitude, or the duration, which it has already attained…Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces; but let us judge not that we be not judged. The prayers of both…[have not] been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes…[And so] with malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds…to achieve and cherish a lasting peace among ourselves…” (emphasis added)
Given these words, it's not a coincidence that Lincoln's birthday is in the same week as Valentine's Day.  For the key to loving reunion, either today, or during another season of civil war -- is:

  •  Not judging
  •  Praying humbly
  •  Showing malice toward none
  •  Showing charity for all
  •  Binding up wounds
  •  Achieving, and cherishing lasting peace. 

Thanks, Abe. 

But more so -- thanks Jesus -- who reminds us -- that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.  But also -- that all have access to the aggressive forgiveness of God,

All have access to grace!  

A grace that empowers us to move from heartache to being heroes -- again!