Friday, April 8, 2016

Peacemaking

Friday 3/25/2016 4:22 AM
Today I read these words of Henri Nouwen, “Peacemaking must be the primary focus of all political leaders, whether in or out of power. But the temptations to personal power are too intense to be overcome by our insistently self-centered egos. Therefore, the peace must be God’s peace, a peace that is freely available when we turn inwardly to Jesus. Jesus is the model of the ultimate peacemaker, always pointing to Abba as the ultimate source of peace, justice, goodness, mercy, love, and creativity. In order to claim peace, we must relinquish our own private agendas and let ourselves be claimed by God.”
I would argue that peacemaking must be not only the primary focus of political leaders, it should also be one of the primary foci of the Christian community. Too often we take our lead from the world and emulate its way of doing things as we interact within the church and with the world. It seems the evangelical church has become a big political machine, looking to protect the interests of the church and of Christians. It looks to restore “family values” using any means necessary and become messengers of hate and bigotry in the process. We focus on our rights being stripped away and seek to restore our society to the way it once was, a simpler, kinder time we remember from our childhood.
God’s call to me as a Christian is to seek justice for those who are oppressed and beaten down, for those without a voice. I am to give up my own rights and seek for the restoration of rights for the disenfranchised in our society. We need to step away from the seats of power and prestige to make way for those who have been too long ignored.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Am I Significant or an Accident?

Tuesday 4/5/2016 4:44 AM
A couple of years ago I read the book Our Mathematical Universe: My Quest for the Ultimate Nature of Reality, by Max Tegmark. Tegmark suggests that our universe is simply a mathematical structure and living things, including humans, are nothing more than extremely complicated braids in the fabric of this structure. At the end of the book Tegmark addresses the issue of human significance or insignificance. After all, if we are nothing but a braid in the fabric of reality why are we necessary or perhaps even important in the grand scheme of things?
Tegmark writes, “It was the cosmic vastness that made me feel insignificant to start with. Yet those grand galaxies are visible and beautiful to us – and only to us. It’s only we who give them any meaning, making our small planet the most significant place in our entire observable Universe. If we didn’t exist, all those galaxies would be just a meaningless and gigantic waste of space.” It was this same kind of feeling that led Lee Strobel to become a Christian, which he documents in his book The Case for a Creator. Strobel looked at the odds of having a planet in the habitable zone of a star, tilted at the perfect angle allowing for even warming and cooling of the planet, with a moon at exactly the right distance so that a total eclipse of the sun allows us to verify the general theory of relativity, placed in a galactic arm in such a way that we can see other galaxies through our telescopes, etc. He concluded that the odds were too small to have it all be an accident and, consequently, came to the conclusion that a being outside our universe must have made it. Tegmark claims we give the Universe meaning; Strobel would argue that our meaning and significance comes from being an intentional creation of God.
Tegmark goes on to suggest that at our stage of human development we have the technology to self-destruct or to seed the cosmos with life. He then writes, “If we end up going the life route rather than the death route, then in a distant future, our cosmos will be teeming with life that all traces back to what we do here and now. I have no idea how we’ll be thought of, but I’m sure that we won’t be remembered as insignificant.” I wonder how Tegmark gets from the viewpoint that he is nothing but a complicated braid in a mathematical structure to having the need to have significance? The two viewpoints seem incompatible to me. I think I would like to sit down over coffee with him to discuss his views so I could better understand.
Like Strobel, I believe the universe and everything in it was created and is sustained by a personal entity, which I call God, who is outside of our known universe. He is a relational being and desires to be in relationship with everything he has made, including me. Humans made my car and it runs best if I change the oil regularly, perform routine maintenance, and follow other suggestions made in the owner’s manual. Similarly, my life works best if I live in a healthy relationship with God, with others, and with the whole of creation. If I separate myself from God, live in conflict with others, or exploit the environment in which I live, my life, and the lives of others are impoverished as a result. If I want to experience life to the fullest degree I need to acknowledge God, look to the needs of others, and protect the environment around me.
In the book Abba’s Child, Brennan Manning writes, “Living in the awareness of the risen Jesus is not a trivial pursuit for the bored and lonely or a defense mechanism enabling us to cope with the stress and sorrow of life. It is the key that unlocks the door to grasping the meaning of existence. All day and every day we are being reshaped into the image of Christ. Everything that happens to us is designed to this end. Nothing that exists can exist beyond the pale of his presence, nothing is irrelevant to it, nothing is without significance in it.” While I have no more evidence of the existence of God than Tegmark has of the evidence of his Universe as a mathematical structure, I certainly do not have the same struggle he has with my own significance and with the significance of others. From my perspective we are all made and loved by God, which gives us ultimate significance.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Living on the Wild Side

Wednesday 3/16/2016 4:40 AM
I have been reading Psalm 25 each day this week. The beginning of the psalm refers to hope in two different verses, “No one who hopes in you will ever be put to shame, … Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.” In his book Resurrection to Pentecost, Robert F. Morneau divides hope into two different categories, what he calls tame hopes and wild hopes. He writes,
Many of our tame hopes are fulfilled on a daily basis; the hope that the sun will shine, or that the pay check will arrive as planned, or that we will get sufficient nourishment for the day. Though one is disappointed once in awhile, our anticipation of these ‘small’ things, though not insignificant, is frequently realized.
By contrast, some of these same issues for people in other cultures are ‘wild hopes.’ Many of our sisters and brothers do not receive a salary nor do they get three meals a day nor does the sun of freedom shine in their lives. Born into poverty or oppressed by social systems, these people find little joy and peace. If they are fortunate in avoiding violence they still must struggle with resentment and bitterness in their awareness of the consumption and materialism of the wealthy.
We must pray like Jesus that hope might be restored and that the earth might be recast. Only then gift of the Holy Spirit can empower us to trust in the future and to assume our rightful responsibility for the common good. Renewing the face of the earth is the work of the Holy Spirit through those people who say yes to being the Spirit’s agent of knowledge, love, and kindness. Our hope, wild or tame, is grounded in God’s promise of presence. Herein is our joy and peace.

Psalm 25 is a good reminder for me that my hopes, both tame and wild, must be grounded in God if they are to be realized. I also need to be open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit and being taught things that will run counter to the wisdom of our modern, Western culture by that same Spirit. It is God’s job to recast our world into the kingdom of God but he uses his people, including me, through the leading of his Spirit, as his agents in the world to seek the common good of our neighbor, not just our own good. Too often I get caught up in my own little work-a-day world of pursuing the tame hopes of the next paycheck or putting food on the table for my family while ignoring the prodding of God’s Spirit to pursue the wild hopes of God’s kingdom: love, kindness, and peace for all mankind. I pray that I, along with all the people of God, will have the courage to live on the wild side.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Sage Advice from My Wife

Monday 3/14/2016 6:19 AM
Today is the first official day of my spring break. Last week I had a plan to go to Phoenix for a couple days to visit Mom, then head down to Tucson for a day to see Rod, Kathy, and Derek, and finally heading home via San Diego for a quick visit with Stan and Judy before heading home in time for the dress rehearsal for our cantata in choir Thursday night. It was going to be a whirlwind trip of visiting while spending the nights in my hotel room reading applications for the teaching positions being offered at Cerritos College, since I am on the hiring committee. When I got home from school Thursday night Jaci suggested I cancel the trip. She felt that I have been working too much lately and needed a break from the busyness and the stress. As usual, she was right.
My semester seems extra busy for various reasons and I have spent longer hours working at school. This is also a busy time for my responsibilities at church with extra meetings required to work through some personnel issues and budgeting for the coming year. I have been distracted from my relationship with Jaci in addition to my time for exercise and meditation. All of this distraction leads to strained personal relationships and feelings of failure and resentment.
Today I read a portion of Francis Dorff’s book The Journey from Misery to Ministry that describes my situation pretty well. “After a while, this Sabbath-less way of living might even become a point of honor with us. We begin bragging about being so busy that we ‘have not had a vacation in years.’ What we fail to realize is that this is already a public declaration of our spiritual poverty. Whether we mean it to be or not, it is also a way of making others feel guilty about honoring the time they need for marginality. In this way we begin to perpetuate the destructive equation of ministry with work.” Working long hours and attending lots of meetings can give me a feeling of accomplishment but the price I pay in lost time with loved ones, lost time for exercise, and lost time for personal reflection is not worth it.
In his book Francis Dorff also writes, “As our insensitivity to our own feelings grows, our lives often begin leaking all kinds of negative emotions. Without even realizing it, we go about feeling frustrated, unappreciated, resentful, exploited, lonely, put upon, needy, angry, and acting in ways that let these negative emotions overflow toward others. If we were in touch with our feelings, these emotions could be moments of truth for us, warning us that we are headed for trouble. They could be the raw material for soul-searching and meditative exploration of what is going on in our lives. When we are out of touch with our hearts, however, we fail even to notice our feelings, much less to receive and act on their important messages.” Thankfully, Jaci had the courage to point out the fact that I was heading for trouble. I pray that as I slow down somewhat this week I will be able to get back in touch with my feelings and act on the messages they give.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Whirlpools and Eddies

Sunday 3/6/2016 5:15 AM
Over the course of the past year or so our church seems to have lost some members. This is a relatively common phenomenon when a pastor leaves a church but there is something that bothers me about it. Some who left are young couples with small children so our children’s ministry seems to be shrinking. We have also gained a few members since we have a new pastor but most of those who recently joined are retired and, for the most part, older in age. It seems that our church goes through phases of growth and retreat. It appears to me that we are in a retreat phase at the moment.
The thing that bothers me about a fluctuating membership is what appears to be a lack of commitment to a body of believers. It seems people only commit to a body of believers if they like the person in charge or if they feel comfortable with the direction the body is headed. The first sign of anything with which they disagree and they are out the door. I’m certain there is more that influences their decision to leave but it seems that they are unwilling to try to work things out or to push for the changes they believe are necessary.
I wonder if God feels the same way about me. I go through hot and cold phases in my relationship with God. At times I am fully engaged, regularly asking for guidance and following where he leads. At other times my commitment is mediocre at best and I drift, swept along by the prevailing currents generated by society at large or malcontents within the Christian community.
The theme of my devotions this week asks the question, “Why do we drift away?” The author, Rueben Job, writes, “The bad news is that individuals, congregations, and denominations can drift astray. It happens so easily. It happens the moment we take our eyes off Jesus Christ. The moment we lose our center we begin to lose our way. We know it does not have to be that way because every day we can keep our eyes upon Jesus Christ and ask for guidance and grace to remain faithful. The good new Christians share is that Jesus Christ is able and willing to guide and enable us on our journey toward our try home with God.” I pray that I can remain focused on Christ and avoid the whirlpools and eddies that so easily suck me down and stall my progress in the development of my walk with God.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Bursting Bubbles

Friday 2/26/2016 4:44 AM
When I was a young man the story and plight of David Vetter became a media sensation. David was born with severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID), a hereditary disease of the immune system that makes one susceptible to infection. David had an older brother who also had SCID and his brother had succumbed to an infection at the age of seven months because of it. Immediately after his birth David was put into a sterile environment made from plastic to protect him from a similar fate. He became know in the media as the boy in the bubble and lived out his twelve years in isolation.
For the first twenty-one years of my teaching career I taught at Valley Christian High School. I loved my job and the colleagues with whom I worked but eventually I felt like I was living in a Christian bubble. I do not mean to imply the students and staff had no problems or difficulties but, for the most part, an extremely supportive community of like-minded people surrounded me. The only students accepted into the school were those who had Christian parents that were members of a local church community. With that kind of clientele, when problems arose, as they inevitably do, there was usually support and assistance provided by the larger community. When you live and work in that kind of environment you can easily be unaware of the difficult issues and situations that are encountered by those who are not a part of such a community. The church of which I was a part and the school where I worked insulated me from those kinds of difficulties so that I eventually felt as if I were living in a bubble.
When Jesus walked the earth he was accused of being friends with sinners. He didn’t avoid the difficult situations and the painful problems experienced by the people of his day; he sought them out and brought healing and restoration. I began to pray that God would give me eyes and ears to experience the world the way he experiences it. Eventually God called me away from the little Christian bubble I was so fond of and allowed me to see and to deal with some of the intractable issues that are so much a part of life in our world. People began entering my life with whom I have no common experience. They began sharing the lose-lose situations in which they find themselves, where there seems to be no nice resolution. I often feel as if I am stumbling around in the darkness with them, the blind leading me, equally blind. I find my heart aching for those who suffer, wishing they could find the same kind of loving, supportive community of which I am a part.
This morning I read the writing of Rueben Job, the author of my devotional book. He writes, “In offering ourselves as fully as we can, we discover the cost of discipleship. For to bind our lives to Jesus Christ requires that we try to walk with him into the sorrows and suffering of the world. Being bound to Jesus Christ, we see barriers broken down and we are led to places we have never been before and to carry loads we have not even seen before. Having offered ourselves to Jesus Christ, we may expect to become the eyes, ears, voice, and hands of Jesus Christ in the world and in the church. The cost of salvation? It is completely free and without cost. The cost of discipleship? Only our lives – nothing more and nothing less.”
I still have a long way to go in breaking down barriers, entering into the sorrows and suffering of others, and sharing the loads with which they have been burdened, but it is comforting to think I may be on the right path. 2 Corinthians 5:17-21 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.” I pray that I will be a good ambassador for Christ, willing to pay the cost of discipleship, to spend my life in service to others.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Fair Weather Christian

Wednesday 2/24/2016 5:55 AM
Over the course of the past few weeks my family has experienced some pretty trying circumstances. My grandson, Knox, was hospitalized with RSV and my nephew, Derek, nearly died from H1N1, and is still hospitalized in the ICU. There have been countless prayers offered on their behalf. Knox has recuperated and Derek is currently showing signs of improvement. Since the outcomes and progress has been positive many people are praising and thanking God, including me.
Sometimes I wonder if there would be so much praise expressed and thanks given to God if the outcomes had been negative, if my grandson or nephew had died or become permanently disabled. It is easy to praise God when things go according to our plans but how often do we hear thanks and praise given to God when someone is struck down in an accident or succumbs to an illness?
Isaiah 56:10 says, “‘Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken, nor my covenant of peace be removed,’ says the Lord who has compassion on you.” I like to measure the love of God by how well my circumstances turn out but God reminds me that his love remains the same regardless of my circumstances. I would like to be able to give praise to God and to remain thankful even in adverse circumstances. I pray that I can pray the words of Job in Job 13:15, “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him.”