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Day 6: Tomorrow is not a promise

I just finished watching that 6 minute video of the small city of Kesennuma, Japan  getting swept away by the deluge caused by the earthquake and the subsequent tsunami.  Crazy stuff.  As we were watching it, there was a shot in there where what looked like a small convenience store  was quickly filling with sea water.  If you were standing in the doorway, you would be about chest to neck high (depending on how tall you are) in water.  A few minutes later, the same building gets swept “upstream”, along with cars, boats, dumpsters, and a bunch of other debris.

When I read the Bible to Emmett tonight, we happened upon Luke 12:13-34

Someone in the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” But He said to him, “Man, who appointed Me a judge or arbitrator over you?” Then He said to them, “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.” And He told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man was very productive. “And he began reasoning to himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?’ “Then he said, ‘This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. ‘And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.” ’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’ So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” And He said to His disciples, “For this reason I say to you, do not worry about your life, as to what you will eat; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. “For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap; they have no storeroom nor barn, and yet God feeds them; how much more valuable you are than the birds! And which of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life’s span? If then you cannot do even a very little thing, why do you worry about other matters? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; but I tell you, not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass in the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, how much more will He clothe you? You men of little faith! And do not seek what you will eat and what you will drink, and do not keep worrying. For all these things the nations of the world eagerly seek; but your Father knows that you need these things. But seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you. Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves money belts which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

We work our whole lives towards attaining a goal.  Depending on your values and/or skills, those goals can be vast and varied.  We can strive to have a large family, a big house, a nice car, a successful career, a high paying job, multiple advanced degrees, to have traveled the world, as well as many other pursuits in life.  Anything that we do in life is likely to serve another end.  I’m sure whoever owned the convenience store in Kesennuma had worked very hard to be able to get the space and have a successful business.  We must realize, as Jesus is telling His disciples, that all of this will be for naught.

All of our pursuits to solidify our position in this world will eventually be turned into dust.  As is demonstrated by the destruction that is being wrought in Japan right now, we can’t even be sure that there will be a tomorrow for us.  (A colleague of Christina’s found an article that says that California is due for a major earthquake of similar magnitude within the next 30 years.)

The solution that Jesus offers to His disciples (and subsequently, to us) is to stop living as if there is a tomorrow.  We need to stop thinking about whether or not there will be food, clothing and housing tomorrow.  We need to trust that God loves us enough to provide those things for us.  We need to plan for eternity; to live our lives as if Jesus were coming back to tell us that our “soul is required of us.”

To be sure, a very difficult challenge when we live in a culture and society that values the dust so much.

 

Day 5: Enduring Trial

It’s late, so just something really quick.

This past week, we studied the first few (12) verses of the book of James.  James writes about trials and how we are to persevere through them in order to be made more complete and to be rewarded with the crown of life at the end of all things.  The dimension of this discussion that I had not realized until this point was that of providing counsel to those who are in the midst of trial.

When presented with people’s problems, I tend to try to solve them pragmatically.  As I have grown older, it has occurred to me that perhaps I shouldn’t even try to solve them at all.  Especially in light of the James passage, I should steer clear of trying to solve other’s problems and allow them to walk the path that God has set before them.  Maybe the only counsel I should offer is the Scripture itself, “consider it pure joy…”

Or maybe just listen to their pain.  Allow them to “persevere” while I listen.

It’s an uphill battle for me.  It is difficult for me to listen to people lay out their problems without trying to offer a solution.  But God is doing a work in me.  Maybe I’ll become more of a listener.

Dear Lord, give me patience to listen and not to troubleshoot. Amen.

Comparison Sunday #45: I’m counting it.

We’ll be walking in no time.

Hello, handsome.

Day 4: Thoughts on Japan and God’s Sovereignty

As more and more reports and images flood in from Japan, I realize how quickly information moves these days.  Gizmodo, one of the tech junkie sites that I frequent, has a live aggregation of all Japanese earthquake news. It’s crazysauce.  Anyway, I had worship practice this morning, and we shared some thoughts about the situation in Japan before practice.  One of my teammates read a Bible passage that seemed very appropriate:

God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change
And though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea;
Though its waters roar and foam,
Though the mountains quake at its swelling pride. Selah.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
The holy dwelling places of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her, she will not be moved;
God will help her when morning dawns.
The nations made an uproar, the kingdoms tottered;
He raised His voice, the earth melted.
The Lord of hosts is with us.
The God of Jacob is our stronghold. Selah.
Come, behold the works of the Lord.
Who has wrought desolations in the earth.
He makes wars to cease to the end of the earth;
He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two;
He burns the chariots with fire.
“Cease striving and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
The Lord of hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our stronghold. Selah. (Ps. 46, NASB)

As terrible as the things that we are hearing about are, and as heartbreaking as the stories that we hear over the news or from friends and family who are directly connected to Japan are, we need to firmly believe that God is still sovereign.  God must be our strength, because the very mountains are falling into the heart of the sea.

This passage, specifically verse 10 (Cease striving…) is used to convince people that they should have more consistent quiet times (usually translated, “Be still…”).  When we read this passage as a whole, we see that it is more like a father telling his children to stop doing whatever it is that they’re doing that they’re not supposed to do.

It reminds me of just this evening when I was trying to put a diaper on E2.  I know he needs to wear this diaper, but he’s got other plans.  He’s crawling all over the place, and he’s doing that thing where he rotates his hips around, making it impossible to put anything on him.  It’s like trying to dress a fish, honestly.  But eventually, I have to lay down the law.  I look in his eyes and say, “HEY. MO YUK. NGAP PEEN. (STOP MOVING. PUT ON THE DIAPER.)”  He will usually lay down long enough to let me do what I need to do.

In the same way, we are “striving” around down here on earth, doing what we want to do and trying to determine what it is that we need out of this life.  And occasionally, God stares us down and says, “HEY. BE STILL. KNOW THAT I AM GOD.  I WILL BE EXALTED.”  We need to understand the sovereignty of  God.  Especially during times of pain and distress.

God will be our refuge and our strength, our very present help in time of trouble.

Day 3: Natural Disaster

Late last night, I heard news from multiple sources that there was a massive earthquake (8.8+) in Japan and that it set off a huge tsunami.  The full effects of this disaster are still being evaluated, but it looks pretty bad.  Keep the nation of Japan and the whole Pacific Rim in your prayers.

From a Christian perspective, natural disasters are interesting things to consider. It’s difficult to not consider the fact that “God is punishing us because we are wicked”, harkening back to the days of Sodom and Gomorrah.  When our world is plagued with political unrest, birds falling from the sky, tsunamis, earthquakes, and snow in Southern California, you can’t help but think that something is up.

On the other hand, I’ve heard the scientists saying that these things (at least the last four) are natural phenomena and/or that they are caused by man’s mistreatment of the world.  That is to say, we have not taken care of the world that we were given, and therefore, it is falling apart around us.

One passage that always struck me in regard to the physical earth and the environment was the curse of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden:

Then to Adam He said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’; Cursed is the ground because of you; In toil you will eat of it All the days of your life. (Gen 3:17, NASB)

It would seem that part of the Edenic curse was a curse of the very ground. And we also know that at the end of all things,

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. (Rev 21:1, NASB)

And in the in-between times (when you feel the pressure comin’):

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. (Rom 8:18-22, NASB)

So, from the beginning of all things to the end of all things, the earth has gone through some pretty rough stuff.  It is, as are our physical bodies, under a curse of decay and is ought to fall apart.  Just as we get sick and our bodies fail us, so will the earth shake, the oceans roar, and the polar caps melt.  The only hope for redemption of this earth is the very same hope that we as humans have: Jesus Christ.

So, what is our responsibility as believers to the earth itself?  Are we to go into the nations and make disciples and believers of the trees and rocks?  Of course not. That’s silly.  I do believe, though, that the charge given to Adam in the garden still holds true for us today:

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Then God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you; and to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to every thing that moves on the earth which has life, I have given every green plant for food”; and it was so. (Gen 2:26-30, NASB)

We are charged with the responsibility of caring for the earth.  Just as Adam was given the garden of Eden to care for, I believe that the world around us and the subsequent environmental issues are ours to deal with.  Yes, the world may be falling apart around us, but just because we occasionally get sick and our bones break doesn’t mean that we should cram our bodies full of garbage (that’s a whole other post).  Likewise, we should properly steward the world that was given to us, even if it is falling apart.

Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t intend to belittle the tragedy that is going on right now in Japan, or any of the other natural disasters that have occurred in the past few years.  I am beginning to realize, however, that these tragedies are just as much a part of God’s grand plan for redemption as we are.

Dear Lord, I pray for the people of Japan.  I pray that you would protect them from further disaster and that you would guide the leadership of the country and of the international community as they begin the cleanup and recovery process.  I pray for the comfort of those who have lost dear ones, and I pray that you would be their strength during this time.  I am in awe of your power over all circumstances and I pray that you would grant all of us the sight to see your hand at work even during a time of such pain and suffering.  Grant us a deeper knowledge of you.  In your Son’s name I pray, Amen.

Day 2: Where is the line between “in” and “of”?

“I am no longer in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are. “While I was with them, I was keeping them in Your name which You have given Me; and I guarded them and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, so that the Scripture would be fulfilled. “But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves. “I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” (Jn 17:11-16, NASB)

Since it began, I’ve been a fan of Glee (and I’m not afraid to admit it).  The underdog story of the unpopular kids in a music group always struck a chord with me.  It reminded me of the same mentality of my high school days in the marching band.  We weren’t exactly the most popular kids in school, but it didn’t bother us, because we had the music (jazz hands!).  It was fine, because most every episode was about how the kids were finding their identity in the music that they were performing, despite (and even in the face of) the status quo of the high school social jungle.

Until season 2.  Something must have tipped off the writers and producers of this show that you can’t have consecutive seasons of New Directions being the constant underdog, replaying the “will they place at Sectionals” drama over and over again.  So the show took a turn for a character drama rather than a plot driven one.  Suddenly, the personal drama of each of the characters came to the forefront of each episode, and the glee club part of Glee took a back seat.

Normally, this isn’t a problem.  Shows change up their MO all the time.  However, the path that Glee has taken over the past few weeks has given me pause, and led me to consider my intake of media.  For a while now, I’ve been aware of the social/political agenda that is present in this particular show.  The homosexual character is portrayed as the martyr, suffering because of who he is.  The “Christian” is portrayed as the prude and the hypocrite.  Whatever they include under the guise of “spirituality” is limited to gospel renditions of “Lean on Me”.

Let’s just say I’m gonna stop watching it now.  It just doesn’t appeal to me anymore.

But it got me thinking.  If I stop watching this, should I stop some of the other things in my life?  Why is Glee any different that some of the other shows that are on TV these days?  I’ve always felt like if I’m going to boycott things, I need to at least be consistent.  So, where is the line?

If I’m going to stop watching Glee because the things on that show don’t sit well with my moral center, then I should start boycotting a bunch of other things, yes?  Here we are at the top of a slippery slope that leads to an extreme kind of separation from the world that I don’t know that I’m comfortable with.  Nor do I think Jesus would be.

Jesus says “I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” Now, this particular passage has been used as the theme for many a college fellowship, but also as a means to justify certain kinds of behavior.  But I would suggest that Jesus intended us, His disciples, to engage the world on their terms while relying on the power of God to keep us from slipping into the chasm that is desensitization and assimilation into the world.

Should we shut ourselves off from all secular media influence (radio, television, movies, internet)?  So long as we find ourselves living in a culture that is driven by these very things, I would suggest that these are the very means by which we are to engage the culture around us.  If we are not conversant in the things of music, television, facebook, twitter, etc., we cannot even begin to have a conversation where anyone will listen to us.

Rather than building a wall around our ears, eyes, and hearts and putting the world on notice that we Christians won’t stand for such programming, I think that we should use the opportunity to start having the conversation about why these shows (1) are so popular, and (2) they don’t sit well with us.

Agree? Disagree?

My allergies are killing me.

40 days of reflection: Day 1

For Lent this year, I’ve decided that I’m going to commit to writing something every day.  It got me back to thinking about why people celebrate Lent in advance of Easter.

via Wikipedia:

Lent in the Christian tradition, is the period of the liturgical year leading up to Easter. Lent is a time of sacrifice for Jesus. The traditional purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer — through prayer, repentance, almsgiving and self-denial — for the annual commemoration during Holy Week of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, which recalls the events linked to the Passion of Christ and culminates in Easter, the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Conventionally, it is described as being forty days long, though different denominations calculate the forty days differently. The forty days represent the time that, according to the Bible, Jesus spent in the desert before the beginning of his public ministry, where he endured temptation by Satan.

This practice is universal in most of Christendom, being celebrated by Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, and Anglicans.

So the purpose of Lent is ostensibly to prepare us for the celebration of the death of resurrection of Jesus Christ through “prayer, repentance, almsgiving and self-denial”.  I’ve noticed that the sacrifice-du-jour is Facebook.  People will intentionally not look at their Facebook for 40 days.  There were a lot of messages in my network today that said, “See you in 40 days, Facebook”.  Now, I’m all for this, and I’ve even done it before.  It was a very freeing, clarifying experience.  I will say, though, that a simple closing of Facebook for 40 days is insufficient to accomplish the goals of the Lenten season.

If we are to mirror the days of Jesus in the desert, we are to go beyond the self-denial and sacrifice.  Those things are good and valid, but in the end, they will result in little more than someone who really wants to look at their News Feed.  If we look at Jesus’ temptation in the desert:

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry. And the tempter came and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.’ ” Then the devil took Him into the holy city and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command His angels concerning You’; and ‘On their hands they will bear You up, So that You will not strike Your foot against a stone.’ ” Jesus said to him, “On the other hand, it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’  Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory; and he said to Him, “All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.’ ” Then the devil left Him; and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him. (Mt. 4:1-11, NASB)

The meat (no pun intended) of this story lies not in the sacrifice or self-denial, but in Jesus’ back-and-forth with Satan.  Jesus demonstrates an encyclopedic knowledge of the Scriptures concerning exactly the things that Satan is trying to tempt Him with.  I would argue that the self-denial and sacrifice was the means to demonstrate the power of the Word of God over the temptations of the flesh.

So where does that leave us (and what am I going to do for Lent)?  I think that when we make the sacrifice of going off Facebook (or replace Facebook with anything you like: coffee, TV, red meat, etc.), we should have the true purpose of this sacrifice in mind.  In doing so, are we gaining the clarity of mind that would allow us to grow closer to God in such a way where we can grow in our knowledge and love for Him?  If not, then we are no better than the Pharisees, who would “neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting.” (Mt. 6:16, NASB)

If you are trying to determine what you are going to sacrifice for Lent, please be mindful of the ultimate purpose of your sacrifice.  It is not for health, it is not for personal glory, it is not so that you will spend less time staring at a screen.  It is so that you and your Heavenly Father can grow closer together as you daily spend time with Him.

That being said, I’m going to make the attempt to write something every day for the next 40 days (and maybe beyond?).  If I had to name it, I’d say that I’m sacrificing a few minutes of my day and some of my brainpower in order to better understand my God, who He is, and what He desires of me.