Saturday, December 20, 2008
I'll get back to these famous birds, but segue with me here to another favorite species: homo sapiens. The older I get, the more appreciation I have for people. As I have blogged before, people are unique in God's creation, the only creature in fact made in the very image of God. People are capable of unbelievable good and impressive heights of genius.
Then there’s the occasional reminder of the sheer nonsense we humans are sometimes given to. In particular, I'm thinking about this new term that keeps popping up everywhere: “Common Era."
What better time to reflect about it than Christmas?
Yesterday, the daily email from the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ) included a story headlined, Ancient coins found among Temple Mount rubble. The story contained the following excerpt, “The first coin, a silver half-shekel, was apparently minted on the Temple Mount itself by Temple authorities in the first year of the Great Revolt against the Romans in 66-67 CE.”
As you know, CE stands for “Common Era.” Actually this is not a new label; it was first used in English in 1715, a century after its first Latin use. (For that, and for much of the following, I am indebted to the Wikipedia article on the subject.)
What’s new, however, is the growing inclination of published sources to use CE to replace AD (the abbreviation for Anno Domino, Latin for “Year of our Lord”). Using a date like "66-67AD" creates an obvious reminder that our calendar is based on the birth of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, and for some people, that's just too much.
Most academics and media outlets have dumped AD for CE (and BC “before Christ” for BCE “before the Common Era”). Wikipedia lists arguments both in favor, and opposition, of CE/BCE. Some of them have some merit. But it seems safe to suggest that the overwhelming point on the part of people who use CE instead of AD, or BCE in place of BC, is the rough equivalent of saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.”
Which reminds me of an old fable … you know, the one having to do with a prince and his attire?
Changing the name does not change the truth. Every time I see or hear this “CE” label, I wonder (sometimes out loud) “When do they think this ‘Common Era’ began?”
God became man, and nothing has been the same. Given that the entire planet uses a calendar based on that, creating a new tag so we don’t have to be reminded that it’s all about Jesus is a little like the behavior that ostriches are famous for.
Which is fine, I guess, if you’re an ostrich.
Saturday, November 29, 2008
Chistians shouldn't expect to always agree with the renowned "Buddhist Master." But we don't always disagree either. He wants world peace, for example, and so do we.
There's some truth lurking in his observation headlined above as well. What griefs, woes, suffering and agonies have issued from the corruption of this God-given wonder?
We'll come back to that, but here's a "strange" (as Paul Harvey likes to say): Isn't it highly inconsistent for someone's offspring to demonize sex? After all, how was he conceived himself?
Within the tenets of Buddhism, of course, he's not guilty as charged. That's because Buddhists believe the Dalai Lama represents a divine incarnation (another bit of common ground with Biblical Christianity which also affirms divine incarnation ... but only in Jesus Christ.) I, for one, am convinced that the Dalai Lama was conceived the same as every other human being (save one).
Nevertheless, his reflection has merit. Just think of the untold tragedies stemming from the misuse of sex: betrayal, heartache, abandonment, divorce, neglected children, domestic violence, unspeakable abuse, suicide ... In a sexless world all of the above would occur at only a fraction of their current levels!
So why don't we just all give up sex? After all, we now have technologies to ensure the procreation of the human race.
Let's take it further: why did God create sex in the first place?
Yes, it is God's gift. In fact, human sexuality holds unbelievable power. It is the power to beget a soul made in the image of God. (Not so for the beasts. They can only procreate animal life.)
No wonder it causes so much havok. It's a little like a giant bulldozer capable of moving tons of earth for much benefit, when used properly. But imagine the destruction it could cause if it were allowed to run amok.
When God gave us the ability to have children He made us co-creators with him. He intended that our use of this power would result in benefit to the creation: helping others, fixing brokenness, bringing beauty, improving the world. In short, He wanted us to bless the world in His name. And all of these have been done, in abundance, by people made in God's image and born through human volition.
To give this ability to mankind, though, was not without risk. So we have the enormous consequences of the misuse of human sexuality, throughout human history and all over the world.
I think we can draw at least two conclusions: 1) God places a very high value on people. Apparently, for God, the more people the better! 2) He knows something He hasn't told us about the end of the story.
But that's for another blog entry.
Monday, November 10, 2008
At the top of this cliff ... or maybe at the bottom ... is maybe where Jesus was crucified for the sin of the world.
The other possible site is now covered with the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, inside the old city. Maybe Jesus died there, maybe here; we don't know.
What we do know is that yesterday, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was the scene of an unbelievable "Christian fight."
Here's the story as reported by ICEJ News under the headline, Christian monks brawl at Jerusalem's Holy Sepulchre
A mass brawl erupted on Sunday between Greek and Armenian Orthodox monks at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the traditional site of Jesus' crucifixion, burial and resurrection located inside Jerusalem's Old City walls. Stunned onlookers watched as the clergymen dressed in their vestments traded punches, pushing and yelling while decorations and tapestries were scattered. The fighting began as Armenian monks marched in an annual procession to mark the Feast of the Cross, a celebration of the 4th century discovery of a cross thought to be used to crucify Jesus. Meanwhile, the Greek clerics demanded that they be allowed to place a monk near the site thought to be Jesus' tomb. The Armenians refused the request, however, seeing it as a power play for control of the site and a deviation from the Ottoman-era status quo agreement that governs relations between the six main churches who oversee the holy site. The Greek monks then blocked the procession from continuing, causing a melee that was ended by Israeli police who ended up arresting two clergymen, one from each denomination. Although there have been conflicts between the six denominations that control the site, police are rarely required to intervene. Tensions have been so high that a ladder placed on a ledge near the entrance has remained since the 19th century because of a dispute over who has the authority to remove it.
An odd juxtaposition--Christ followers in a knock-down, drag-out fight right at the place of His passion.
Jerusalem, where he was headed when another "power play" took place:
"We are going up to Jerusalem," he said, "and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise."
James and John … came to him. "Teacher," they said, "we want you to do for us whatever we ask." "What do you want me to do for you?" he asked. They replied, "Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory." … When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John.
Jesus called them together and said, "You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."
We like to think we're so much more sophisticated than James and John. As soon as Jesus has announced He's going to be murdered, they start positioning to be in charge when He's gone. How could they be so crass and self-serving.
But lately Jesus' words have been striking my own heart, challenging in me the same ugly self-centeredness that broke out in one of Christianity's most sacred places yesterday.
- Do I have any idea what it means to be a servant?
- Am I really willing to die to my own ambition?
- Why do I chafe when I think my gifts and talents are being submerged?
- When do I ever stop for a nobody, as Jesus did for a blind beggar in the immediately following story in Mark 10?
There's nothing sophisticated about selfishness, and there's no cure like recognizing Jesus' presence. Which reminds me of my youth.
Like most siblings, my brother and I had a real doozy of a fight from time to time. Sometimes Dad would catch us at it, and of course we immediately stopped. But he had a most effective discipline method. "Oh no," he'd say, "Don't stop. You just keep fighting! I want to see you." You know, with him watching, there was no fight left in either of us. Our attempts to keep it up, as he insisted, were pathetic and lame in his presence.
Whether we're standing outside His long-empty tomb or somewhere else, Jesus is there. If we just remember and practice His presence, what a powerful cure that will be for selfishness and turf wars.
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
On a city bus, an older gentlemen asked me, in broken English, if a particular building in the distance might be St Paul’s Cathedral? When I replied that we ourselves were headed to that famous landmark, he immediately responded, “Oh, good, we’ll go together!”
“Persia!” was his answer when I asked where he was from. He was proud of the land of his fathers, but ashamed of its leaders (“we have a very bad government”). He fell back on the ancient name rather than admit he was from Iran.
Our few minutes together, walking slowly down the street to the great cathedral, comprised a pleasant exchange about our families and snapping photos together (touched up here to protect their identity). We left them with a brief word of testimony of Isa, the only One who died for them and loves them still today.
It was my first time to meet anyone from Iran, and the story serves to frame something about yesterday’s election. More about that below, but first some general observations:
• America has a new President elect. I salute Obama’s remarkable success and genuinely want him to be an effective president. He deserves opportunity to succeed. But given what we already know about his positions, such a hope seems audacious indeed. Praise God that our hope, and faith, are not in Obama but in Jesus Christ.
• Obama’s achievement has cast an important new vision for all black Americans.
• This election looks like very bad news for unborn children. I hope a President Obama does not continue his senatorial trajectory of approving the murder of innocents. Robert George has written a compelling article clearly spelling out that Barack Obama has been not only “pro-choice” (if such a moniker is even accurate) but clearly pro-abortion. Until now, there has been no pro-abortion law he would not support, nor any protection of the unborn, however miniscule, he would not reject.
• Obama comes to the office at a moment of ponderous global challenges. Within hours of his election, Russia announced it is deploying missiles inside Europe in defiance of a U.S.-led missile defense plan. The Taliban has called for an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. These may portend what’s to come and we need to pray for courage and wisdom for a new, untried President Obama.
I also hope a President Obama does not fulfill his pledge of no-conditions discussions with global thugs like Ahmadinejad. Which brings me back to that delightful couple from “Persia.” I read today that, “Polls taken inside Iran show that the Iranian people are the most pro-American in the Middle East, after Israel.” Reading that, I understood the warmth of our encounter with two strangers on the streets of London. May their favorable view of Americans … and the attendant opportunity for the spread of the gospel in their land … remain undiminished in the coming months and years.
Friday, August 1, 2008
The photo depicts what used to be Roslyn Lake, five miles east of my house. Like tens (probably hundreds) of thousands of people, we have splashed, boated and fished in this very pleasant local waterway, and picnicked on its shores, but no more.
Roslyn was part of the Bull Run reservoir, and the stream feeding it was channeled through a most amazing wooden aqueduct. We used to drive guests up Phelps Road crossing under the aqueduct trestle and up the hill to park and look down on the clear, cold water hurrying to the lake below.
Not any more. The lake is gone, and (I'm told) the aqueduct is soon to follow, victims to a political system too deeply infected with environmentalism to tolerate the possibility that a fish might die.
I digress. I really use that picture and story to point to another one, penned by Mart De Haan in Our Daily Bread.
He writes about a sewage lagoon in Sand Lake, Michigan, that disappeared into a sinkhole. "Fifteen million gallons of water suddenly disappeared."
Even more interesting was that nobody knew where the water went. De Haan quoted a (befuddled?) county spokesperson who had the dubious privilege of offering an explanation to the press: "It will depend on where it went before we can say what happened."
Curious syntax, but one gets the point.
Here's the powerful spiritual parallel De Haan drew out of that intriguing story:
"I imagined all the wrongs of my life as being like that missing filthy lagoon. ... I really don't know where they went, but they are gone. The last time I saw the real guilt of my envy, anger, and impatience, they were all nailed to the cross of a Man suffering for wrongs He never committed."
In my teen years, shortly after my voice changed, my Dad put me on to a solo written for bass voice that was a lot of fun to sing. (I will not presume the same emotion on the part of the listeners.) De Haan's story reminds me of the words of that song:
"They are buried in the deep, deep sea.
They can never, never trouble me.
Cease my unavailing fears, for my sins of all the years,
They lie buried in the deep, deep, sea."
Monday, June 30, 2008
That verse says that Jesus was made sin for us so that we can be made the righteousness of God in Him. One writer I consulted called it the most profound verse in the Bible.
God crossed many dimensions to become man and open to us the way of life.
- From infinity he came to an obscure Roman province on a dark planet in a nameless solar system in one of uncounted billions and billions of galaxies.
- From somewhere outside time he made himself subject to the oppression of the aging process.
- From perfect love he came to scorn and contempt.
- From eternal life he came to death.
- And from perfect holiness he became sin. For us, his enemies.
Every single individual on this planet is loved and valued by Jesus Christ. Every person is born for joy, and because of Jesus' unspeakable payment, joy is just one step away.
Sunday, June 15, 2008
John Revesz was born near Saskatoon. Before departing for there four weeks ago, I saw John in church and made it a point to tell him where I was going. I knew he would be interested. He was always interested in people, me included.
John couldn't see very well lately. Helen did all the driving. But he was always in church ... until a couple of weeks ago. Helen told us he was weak. Last Sunday afternoon I started a five-day meeting in Brightwood, so I wasn't home when Valerie got the call, "John is dying. Do you want to see him?"
She did, and when I got home, I phoned. "Yes," Helen said, "he is about like yesterday." So I arranged to be there in a couple of hours. But a little before it was time to go, his daughter called back. It was too late. John saw his opportunity and took it; I had missed mine.
An earthly pilgrimage is a thing of wonder. Here was a 97-year-old man whose parents had been born in Hungary, one of 10 children, Canadian-born but immigrated to America. He had worked as a farmer, preacher, mechanic, furniture fabricator, homebuilder, woodworker and handyman.
Without any religious background, John had come to faith in Jesus Christ when he was 30 years old. Astride a farm tractor one day, he heard the voice of God. So he stopped the tractor and knelt in the dirt to invite Jesus into his life. "He identified immediately with God's great grace and tender mercies," as his son, Richard, put it.
John immediately began leading young people to events where they could make the same discovery. He knew Jesus now, and it was important that other people have the opportunity for the same relationship. "Our dad made Jesus a 67-year theme," Richard said.
A good choice. The only choice, really. At the end of 97 years, he slipped away, and that's the best part. He is gone from us, but he did not go to silence, gloom or fear. He did not, in fact, go to anything less than what he knew for 97 years. No, he went to much more. His mortality, as Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, was swallowed up by life.
“Someday you will read in the papers that D. L. Moody of East Northfield is dead," wrote the famous evangelist of an earlier century. "Don’t you believe a word of it! At that moment I shall be more alive than I am now; I shall have gone up higher, that is all, out of this old clay tenement into a house that is immortal – a body that death cannot touch …”
So it is for John Revesz. So it can be for you.
Saturday, June 7, 2008
Monday, May 12, 2008
At the end of a conversation about spiritual matters during which I shared my own story and a couple of favorite truth analogies, I said something like this to him: “Someday God is going to knock on the door of your heart, and it will require faith on your part to answer.”
For maybe the first time in the conversation he disagreed with me.
“No,” he said, “I don’t see it that way. At the end of the day, I believe a life well-lived will not be rejected.”
Since he had felt free to disagree, I reciprocated.
“No,” I said, “I’m afraid you are mistaken. That’s the greasy-$100-bill approach,” I replied, referring to an earlier metaphor I had used that goes like this:
If someone approached me and said, “Gary, I would like to do something really special for you. I want to give you my ranch. Here’s the deed, titles to the vehicles, all the equipment, buildings, cattle and horses … it’s yours! Enjoy!”
If that happened to me, I said, I had two choices: I could accept it as a gift, or I could refuse it.
The only other option, to pay for it, was way beyond my means. And if I dragged a greasy $100 bill out of my wallet and said, “Here’s 100 bucks, I can’t take that for nothing,” I would be insulting the giver.
So it is when we try to earn God's favor. We can never muster enough goodness to earn that favor. We must receive it as a gift, or reject it. Our highest effort cannot possibly begin to earn it.
That payment has already been made. 2000 years ago. As surreal as it may seem, on a Roman cross just outside the gates of first-century Jerusalem, Jesus of Nazareth provided the unique payment for the sins of the whole world for all time ... including yours ... including mine.
So, while a well-lived life is a goal worthy of anyone, to rely on such a life to earn a good standing with God is folly.
Maybe that's what Jesus was talking about when he said: “When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first.” (The Gospel of Matthew, chapter 13, verses 43-45)
Wednesday, May 7, 2008
That's the only word for the story about the man in Austria accused of incest. After the news first broke, I can't bear to read about it any more
That story is only one of the worst in the daily accounts of the abuse of God's gift of human sexuality.
Someone not convinced of the ultimate goodness and wisdom of God might be tempted to question what he was thinking about when he granted to man the ability to beget life. When God gave man that privilege, he gave away enormous power. Power for good, and power for evil.
(That's much different, by the way, from the ability of animals to procreate. Animals don't give birth to a soul made in the image of God. Only people do that.)
God is eternal and I am not. If my puny perspective fails to grasp what He has in mind, should I be surprised? Some day I will know even as I am known. Some day we will see what God already sees about this. Just not yet, not here.
In the meantime, we Christ followers are called to bring His blessing and healing and reconciliation to the world. Wherever there is brokenness, we can bring healing in His name.
There is plenty of brokenness in the communities of the North Pacific Crescent. Sexual abuse, for example, happens way too much in so many of these communities. For obvious reasons, it's almost impossible to get statistics about it, but anyone who works in these environments knows the stories.
Too many young girls live in dread of the night. Too many bedrooms have no doors. Too many children know so little of real childhood.
It's hard for outsiders to understand the damage done by sexual abuse. Years after the last night of horror, people are still suffering. Marriages cannot survive, families struggle. The function of entire communities can be crippled by this reality.
But that's not the end of the story. Jesus has His people in some of these places. His powerful love is bringing a difference.
One of the best examples of that is a program called Hearts Going Toward Wellness. Alaska Native leaders dreamed it up and are leading the way. Check it out at http://news.webshots.com/album/554597374ZbNGaJ
It's our privilege to participate.
Yours, too. Ask me how.
Sunday, May 4, 2008
The neighbors probably wouldn't use that adjective to describe Bruce and Flo. After all, they live in a nice but non-descript double-wide manufactured home on an treeless street and drive an old Toyota sedan. They wear every day clothes and eat every day food because they are every day people. But if the neighbors could see them through the lens of the Kingdom of God they would never call them ordinary.
Bruce and Flo raised their family in Idaho before going to Alaska to settle into a small community 330 crow-flight miles from the nearest road. They went simply to offer their lives to people.
When they arrived, they were given a house to rent. Flo, like any nester, wanted to start by cleaning it up, but Bruce said Let's wait for a couple of days. Dust flying out an open front door at the end of a broom would say "This house is dirty" and he didn't want to offend the community.
Of course a little dust was nothing new to Bruce, or his bride. He was an Idaho sheepherder. He grew up in the hills and benches above the Snake River and, like a certain king-to-be of Israel, lived most of his life with sheep. Like that Israeli shepherd, he killed a bear that was raiding his flock, and the .22 pistol he used to do it was more powerful than a sling only by degrees.
That had been their life, but God called them like he called Amos, from tending sheep to offering a life to people. And they went. And they served that little community, and two or three others, through 13 years of obscurity in Alaska's desolate wilderness. The gift of their lives brought help and love and grace to some very dear people, dear to the Walters and dear to Jesus Christ.
Now they are back in Idaho in retirement. The living room of that little manufactured home displays a simple wooden plaque expressing the love of those remote Alaska communities.
Bruce and Flo still live pretty much in obscurity. But they have many friends in many places, whose embrace now is all the more dear to them since they found out, about a month ago, that Flo has stage 4 cancer.
None of us knows our days. Only to God is the future clear. That's how it works: He knows and loves, we trust and obey. That He would stoop to work with people at all is something very profound. But He does. He uses the most ordinary people.
He used Hannah, the barren wife of a polygamist, to provide the priest Samuel who rescued his people from moral collapse and became one of the most prominent leaders in the history of Israel.
He used Simon of Cyrene ... and went out of his way to identify him ... to carry the cross upon which Jesus of Nazereth died to purchase salvation for the world.
He used the youngest son of Jesse, a redhead despised by six older brothers, to kill a giant and deliver his people and become their greatest king, the benchmark for all the long line of royalty. He was a shepherd, like Bruce and Flo. About him the scriptures testify that "David ... served the purpose of God in his own generation ..."
That's how God works. And because he does, in the economy of God, there is no such thing as an ordinary life.
And as Bruce and Flo would be the first to say, it isn't about us anyway ... it's about the King.
We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.
Monday, April 28, 2008
Last Tuesday I flew to Alaska. By car, that would be 2,461 miles and take 48 hours (not counting any stops). Alaska Airlines does it in about 3.5 hours (not counting the obligatory stop in Seattle). That could be why I have flown to Alaska many times but only driven once.
Now that I'm blogging I need to start taking my camera when I travel. This would have been the trip for pictures. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday it was about 60 degrees with beautiful sunshine. On Friday it started snowing in the morning and it was still snowing when I took off after midnight. Parts of Anchorage received 22 inches. On April 25.
I helped a friend shovel snow off his driveway and he remarked how unusual it is to shovel snow at 10:00 p.m. in daylight.
Driving back into Anchorage from Palmer Friday evening in a heavy snow storm, a bald eagle flew right over my car. I have never been so close to this magnificent bird and have to wonder if he was having trouble navigating in the weather.
The picture isn't Alaska. I didn't have my camera up there. This photo was taken right here in my back yard in Boring, on April 19. A corner of our garden is visible in the middle of the picture. The lighter areas are the snow-covered grass clippings I had spread there from mowing a day or two before.
I'm still waiting for a TV metereologist to make some remark about global warming in this, one of the longest, coldest, snowiest will-spring-ever-get-here years in memory.
Friday, April 18, 2008
(Full disclosure: The picture is actually taken about four miles up the road, in nearby Sandy, but you could get much the same picture if you chose the right spot in Boring.)
I have been asked, more than once, "Is it boring?" to which I have replied (after asking them their location), "Is it omaha?"
Valerie and I (with our two sons, Zach and Caleb) moved here in 1990, before some of my readers were born, and exactly 3.27 times longer than anywhere I have ever lived in my whole life. Now the boys are grown and we have a couple of grandsons. We have planted trees and watched them grow up. Ten, in fact. Amazing.