Posts Tagged ‘freedom

11
Nov
19

No magic wand

The-Roman-Destruction-and-Rebuilding-of-Jerusalem-A14Have you ever played the “magic wand” game?

That’s the game where someone says to you, “If you could wave a magic wand and change ONE THING about your life, what would it be?”

If you are anything like me, you have a really tough time answering that question.

The list of things I would like to change about myself is at least as long as my arm. Would it be the bags under my eyes? Or my gimpy left knee? Maybe I should go with my dismal level of self-discipline at the dinner table, or the erratic nature of my prayer life.

I find the idea of choosing just one thing to be an exercise in utter futility.

If I were a citizen of Israel in the time of Jesus, my answer to the magic wand question would have sprung from my lips even before the person finished asking the question. I would probably have said something like, “I would wave that magic wand and ask that the Messiah would arrive and liberate us from these loathsome Roman oppressors.”

In just a few short weeks, the Christian part of the world will formally (and in some places EXTRAVAGANTLY) celebrate the granting of the first part of that magic wand wish. God’s Anointed Messiah did indeed arrive in Bethlehem of Judea. He came disguised as a tiny, helpless baby born in a barn to a frightened teenage mother and an older, forgiving, earthly father.

Poor people (in the guise of shepherds), rich people (in the guise of Magi from the East), and heavenly hosts stopped everything and celebrated this breaking news, headline event.

The problem was, Jesus’ birth did not accomplish the SECOND part of the magic wand wish. Meaning this Messiah’s arrival did NOT succeed in liberating Israel from Rome’s harsh political yoke.

Quite the contrary, in fact.

The historical record shows us that things actually got much worse for Israel in the years following Jesus’ death and resurrection. The ultimate defeat for Israel came in Rome’s annihilation of hundreds of Jews and the total destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in the year 70 AD, as depicted above.

For Israel – and for the world – the birth of the Messiah was indeed Good News. But it was certainly no magic wand. Jesus’ birth and ministry did absolutely nothing to change the circumstances of his world. What it DID do, however, was to absolutely transform the way his followers were able to relate to those circumstances.

I know, I know… this is really an inappropriately early time to start thinking Christmas and Advent thoughts, and so I will beg your forgiveness on that score. I suppose I have been prompted in this direction by looking around and observing a world that seems to be increasingly enamored of “magic wand solutions.” We buy fistfuls of lottery tickets, hoping that the magic wand of MONEY will help… we change jobs, spouses, hairstyles, homes, and sometimes even bodies hoping one of these magic wands will save us.

I think the Christmas story is meant to be a reminder that the “glad tidings of great joy” was not a magic wand when it first arrived on the scene.

Maybe a better idea for all of us this season would be to quiet ourselves at the side of the manger and remember that the real work of salvation was always intended to work from the inside out instead of the other way around.

Abundant blessings;

“She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”(Matthew 1:21, NRSV)

16
Apr
19

Where is the Justice?

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

– Isaiah 55:8-9

Panera bread picYesterday was a truly gorgeous day here in the Kansas City area.

Yes, the weather was a perfect 78 degrees, sunny, with a gentle easterly breeze, rustling the newly leafing branches of the trees.

THAT was a genuine delight.

But what made the day especially lovely was the news my wife and I heard from her oncologist.

Yesterday we found out that after five months of chemotherapy, major, invasive surgery, and untold hundreds of prayers, Joan’s scans showed NOTHING.

As in, NADA, zero, zip, bupkis tumors or cancerous presence in her body.

It was the result we had been hoping and praying for but had not dared speak aloud.

THANK YOU, JESUS! And thank you SCIENCE! And thank you wonderful, caring medical professionals!

And so, since we were only two blocks away from a Panera Bread store – and since it was nearly lunchtime – we decided to celebrate with a fresh, tasty lunch.

And then as we finished our lunch and stepped outside, back into the beautiful day God had provided, I thought about my great-grandparents.

Honestly, I am not sure why they entered my mind at that moment. As far as I know, I never met any of my great-grandparents.

No matter why I thought of them, here is HOW they entered my framework at that moment. As Joan and I stepped out the door of Panera I thought, “Wow! We have just received a clean bill of health from a disease that only three generations ago would have probably been a death sentence for someone. And we followed that up by rather effortlessly enjoying a delicious, well-prepared meal… a meal that would have required monumental efforts by my great-grandparents to prepare.”

I then realized that the only difference between MY outcomes and my great-grandparents’ outcomes was the entirely accidental timing of my birth.

1951 vs. 1851.

And I thought, “Oh, what a MASSIVE difference 100 years makes.”

Faced with such a disparity in outcomes – based on something as arbitrary and capricious as a birthday – the natural question I was prompted to pose is: where is the justice?

How is it that such a minuscule span on history’s timeline can mean such a huge discrepancy in overall quality of life? How does that square with any notion of fairness?

Or we could widen our lens a bit and ask the question of geographical justice. We could ask, “How is it that a child born today in one part of the world can have such an enormously higher chance of survival and good health than a child born in another part?”

Or in an example that hit very close to home for us this week: “How can it be even remotely just that a family member who has successfully battled back from breast cancer can suddenly die in her sleep from cardiac arrest?”

Or – apropos of yesterday’s news – how cruel and unjust was it to watch the great cathedral of Notre Dame burning on the Monday of Holy Week?

What did ANY of these people do to earn these outcomes… either the good ones or the bad ones? How do any of us hope to understand the notion of JUSTICE in such a twisted setting as this?

And alas… I find that the longer I sit and stew over this question, the further and further I drift from any sort of answer. The paltry power of these three pounds of grey matter inside my skull is clearly no match for this cosmic conundrum.

As reason escapes, I find I am left only with a decision; the decision of how to live in a world like this. Will I choose to live as if I am forever the butt of some cruel joke… always looking around, expecting either the chair or the rug to be pulled out from under me, for the amusement of some Celestial Prankster?

Or will I choose to live in faith… accepting the reality of the utter unsearchableness of the universe, yet confident that behind all of it there is a loving, compassionate Hand that holds me, protects me, provides for me, and comforts me… even in those times when nothing seems to make a lick of sense.

The message of Easter is ALWAYS relevant, but maybe it becomes even more relevant during times of confusion, heartache, and a temptation toward cynicism.

“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.”
– Luke 24:5, NRSV

The message of the empty tomb is meant to remind ALL of us that the worst thing is never the last thing… that even when we can’t see it or understand it, we are surrounded and sustained by love.

… and that there will never be anything in the world more powerful than LOVE.

 

Holy Week blessings to each of you.

18
Mar
19

Freedom cancer

Cancer cellSix months ago, I didn’t know much about cancer.

If I’m being honest, I would have to tell you I didn’t really want to know anything about it. I called it “the ‘C’ word.”

But then September 21 happened. That was the date of my wife received her cancer diagnosis.

I can’t tell you that I know much more about cancer now than I did then, but I have learned a couple of things.

I learned that cancer is cell division gone haywire.

As you probably know, as human beings, we are each giant cell-producing machines. Old cells die and new ones take their place… at the rate of about 100 billion new red blood cells and over 4 million epidermal skin cells every day, just to name two types of these cells.

Cancer describes the situation in which normal, orderly cell division goes awry and cells start dividing in a non-orderly, chaotic fashion. New cells are created that have no correspondence to replacing old cells that have died.

In other words, cancer is a deadly disease process that bears a striking resemblance to a naturally ordained process of the human body. Some gene somewhere deep in the DNA sends an incorrect signal, which causes wacky, willy-nilly cell division.

As I thought about this description, I began to wonder… is it possible there is a similar kind of disease process at work inside the DNA of our culture… especially regarding the FREEDOM gene?

I absolutely believe that freedom is hard-wired into the socio-cultural DNA of human beings. Witness the lengths to which people living in totalitarian cultures will go to be free. Witness the waves of immigration into free, democratic countries. Witness Paul’s statement in Galatians 5:1 – “For freedomChrist has set us free,” or this sentiment a little later reminding us that, “… you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters.”(Galatians 5:13, NRSV).

To be human means to crave freedom.

But here lately it seems we have seen a basic mutation of the freedom gene. “Freedom” seems to have become mutated into “license” and “unfettered self-indulgence… heedless of consequences to others.”

We want to be free to smoke tobacco products, no matter how much second-hand smoke we generate, or how much pressure we put on the nation’s health-care system. We want to be free to ride a motorcycle without crash helmets, or drive cars without seatbelts, no matter how many of us end up in the emergency room.

And of course, we want to be free to own any kind of high-powered automatic or semi-automatic firearm our little heart’s desire… no matter what kind of death and destruction they continue to cause.

I fear we may have entered a time when the cancer of personal license has deformed any idea of “common good” right out of our FREEDOM genome. And sadly, this particular form of cancer seems to be more prevalent in the United States of America than in any other place in the world.

The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) wrote extensively of the intimate relationship between freedom and responsibility. He talks at length about Jesus Christ freely deciding to bind himself to the lives of those he came to serve… and then set them free as a result.

The American Libertarian writer and politician Harry Browne went a step further when he said, “Freedom and responsibility aren’t interconnected things; they are the same thing.”

If I am to insist that my freedom have no boundaries at all, I am – by definition – asking you to give up a measure of your freedom. I am saying that my freedom to inhale and exhale the smoke of burning tobacco leaves is more important than your freedom to breathe clean air.

And I call that a mutated, cancerous kind of freedom.

Today my wife is taking her last chemotherapy infusion for the cancer that invaded her body. The signs are good that the chemo – and surgery – have done their work and eradicated all signs of this demon from her.

And so we rejoice and thank God.

But I wonder… is there any kind of chemotherapy available for our nation’s “freedom cancer”?

I pray we can find that cure…

… and find it soon.

21
Jan
19

The Power of Commitment

mlk in prayerIt is admittedly a little odd to peer inside my head today and see the two things taking up most of the space there:

  • The Kansas City Chiefs football team, and…
  • Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Chiefs are there because they lost a heartbreaking game to the New England Patriots last night. In so doing, they missed their chance to go to their first Super Bowl in 49 years.

I attended the game in person with my sons and was on my feet in the cold, yelling myself hoarse from beginning to end.

Dr. King is in my head because today is his day. It is the third Monday of January… the day set aside as a national holiday to honor the legacy of the slain civil rights leader.

I never imagined I would be saying this, but as I sat and listened to a radio documentary on Dr. King’s last march, it struck me that there just might be similar lessons to be gleaned from these two HUGELY dissimilar sources.

In each case, for example, we witness what can happen when a powerful and compelling VISION is raised before a group of people. Yes, of course, a vision of full civil rights and human dignity for African-Americans and a vision of a Super Bowl championship are as different as artichokes and bicycles.

Both quests – however – begin with a vision… a vividly clear picture of a preferred future that calls every person to work together to get there.

Visions excite. Visions motivate. Visions unify. Visions help people sort actions into “essential” and “non-essential.”

Major undertakings simply do not happen without a vision to kick-start them.

And then, once a vision has been raised and people rally behind it, steps are taken toward an OUTCOME. And so outcomes are the next place I see possible parallels between Dr. King and the Chiefs.

My Chiefs fell short of their desired outcome. They lost 37-31 in overtime to the *%#! New England Patriots. Despite a phenomenal regular season, they will not be participating in Super Bowl LIII. That is not to say the season was a total waste. Many great things happened to the Chiefs in the months since NFL play officially began on September 9, 2018.

At the time he was assassinated, Dr. King had a deep uncertainty about the state of racial justice in this country. Historians tell us that he was regularly plagued by self-doubt about his leadership and whether his efforts were making even a small dent in the toxic cloud of racism that spread over this country.

When he died, Dr. King was tired and despondent – especially about the state of the sanitation workers in Memphis, TN. He had traveled there to advocate on their behalf, to gain higher pay and improved working conditions. In fact, in his famous speech the night before his assassination on April 4, 1968, King told his audience that even though he had “been to the mountaintop” and gotten a glimpse of a bright and just future, he had to confess that, “… I might not get there with you.”

It reminded me that sometimes in life we can have visions, we can make plans, we can work hard, taking all of the necessary steps toward the desired outcome, leaving no stone unturned, rallying scores and scores of supporters… only to see our dream elude our hopefully grasping hands.

In our disappointment, it is frequently easy to overlook the value of the journey. When we notice we are not standing at the peak of that mountain it can be tempting to call our quest a failure. We look to find an external “villain” so we can point an accusing finger of blame at them and say, “If only…”

But if we allow ourselves to stay stuck in the trough of that disappointment, it is too easy to miss the golden moments that appear along the way.

The journey to Super Bowl victory is an arduous one… requiring much hard work and sacrifice. But it IS attainable. The journey to Dr. King’s mountaintop where people are judged, “… not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character…” might – sadly – be everlastingly elusive.

But my prayer today is that the difficulty of any quest might never be the reason to avoid the journey.

I have no idea what the primary “driving energy” for professional football players really is. Money? Fame? Status? Pride of achievement? It probably varies from one player to the next.

As we know, Dr. King was motivated by the Good News of Jesus Christ and he stoked the fires of his daily energy with prayer. He took the words of the psalmist very much to heart and lived by this guidance, “Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act.” (Psalm 37:5, NRSV).

Today may we each dare to embrace a bold vision of life, and join Dr. King in committing our work to God.

Abundant blessings;

03
Dec
18

Storm Shield

One of my favorite apps to pull up on my phone is an app called “Storm Shield.”

It is a weather radar app that allows me to see CURRENT weather radar as well as a view of what the weather radar will look like in the FUTURE.

I enjoy opening this app periodically so I can look at what is going on in the world, meteorologically. I feel like a genuine weatherman as I peer at my phone and make uneducated guesses about where that big ol’ patch of thunderstorms will be heading next.

And let’s face it… who doesn’t love getting a little peek into the future? Even if it is just the next few hours of weather?

But as fond as I am of this app, I must take its developers to task here a little: despite its reassuring name, not ONCE has this app ever actually shielded me from a storm. Winds have tousled my hair and rain has fallen on me JUST LIKE IT DID before I bought it!

Besides being a fan of the FUTURE feature of the app, I also love having the ability to shrink or widen the perspective. I can look either at this view:

Storm shield 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Or THIS one: Storm shield 1

… or even wider if I so desire.

I’m not going to lie; all this power – including the ability to peer into the future – makes me feel a bit like The Great and Powerful Oz!

I think the urge to “look beyond” ourselves and see an enlarged picture of our world is a fairly basic human tendency.

I mean, who knows? Maybe it is exactly this “looking beyond” urge that supplies the energy for space exploration, and undersea voyages, and archeological digs.

It is certainly the reason we will likely never face a shortage of movies on the subject of time travel.

Yes… we all want to “see beyond” our present moment and setting, but it seems we really only want that vision if it fits in with the way we see the world right now.

 

In this age of relativism and inflated self-importance, we really don’t want to be bothered to consider a cosmic point of view that might dare to challenge our seat on the Throne of Power of our lives.

I make this statement because of the research that shows an ever-accelerating rise in the number of people who reject any notion of God or Ultimate Reality or a Higher Power, preferring instead to operate by the seat of their own, omnipotent pants.

They do have a point. This is, after all, the God who said (through the mouth of the prophet Isaiah):

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
–       Isaiah 55:8-9, NRSV

This is probably not the God from whom you would ever hear a phrase like, “Yeah, OK… whatever you think. That’s cool.”

This Advent season we have just embarked on is a time to be reminded of our utter subordinacy as humans. It is a time when God said, “I know you are impatient for a solution to the web of ills that surround you, but rest assured; I’ve got this.”

And then – at Christmas – we saw that God did INDEED have it!

So thanks anyway, but I think I will just be content to rely on my Storm Shield app for my “far and wide” glimpses of reality.

And I’ll try to be a little more prepared the next time that green blob starts moving in my direction.

 

Abundant blessings;

06
Nov
18

The Real Problem

Dreamer image“Your situation…” a wise person once said to me, “… is never the problem.”

Pregnant pause.

“The problem… “ they continued, “… is your RELATIONSHIP to your situation.”

And for the most part, I agreed with and appreciated this pearl of wisdom when I first heard it.

I mean, how often are we prone to believe that if we can just change something about our situation… by getting a new job, a new spouse, a new haircut, a new hometown, a new car, a new political leader, a new wardrobe, or a new pet… that life will finally be whole, complete and perfect?

I confess I have fallen for that faulty line of reasoning more than once.

And yet, this wise saying – like many wise sayings – has its flaws.

If your situation, for example, involves you being in poverty, being abused, being otherwise exploited, being denied justice, or being trapped in a cycle of addiction, then yes… your situation IS the problem.

You need advocates and empowerment to change that situation.

But for the most part, I am firmly on board with the “change your attitude instead of your situation” wisdom.

True… I may just be trying to steel myself against a potentially MASSIVE disappointment as I watch today’s election results trickle in. I may be preparing to (somehow) take a hopeful, positive relationship to a thoroughly sucky future political situation.

But still… I thought it might be a good time to remind all of us of the amazing power we each hold. Even when things don’t turn out the way we would prefer we each have the power to shape our own outlook on the world.

As it turns out, today is a good day to read and re-read this election day wisdom from that famous first-century political pundit, the Apostle Paul where he reminds us where to keep our focus: “…  because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.”(2 Corinthians 4:18, NRSV, emphasis mine).

Happy voting!

Abundant blessings;

10
Jul
18

An Amazing Rescue

Thailand Cave SearchI can’t even imagine what that must have been like.

There you are; riding your bike home from a soccer practice when someone in the group suggests that you turn off the road and head into a nearby local park.

“Hey! Let’s go check out this cave!” they say. “I saw it last year and it is really cool.”

You enter… and it IS really cool. I mean, hey! It’s a CAVE!

Then something compels you to go deeper and deeper just to see what might be around the next bend. Maybe it’s because you’re a 12-year-old boy and that’s just what 12-year-old boys do.

Intoxicated by the boyish joy of adventure and discovery, you don’t even know that outside the mouth of the cave – back where your bikes are parked – the rain has started. You don’t know that it is a real “toad strangler” of a rainstorm, dumping buckets of water down on the park… filling the low places in your cave with water.

But then, when you turn around to head back out, you discover the gut-grabbing truth: your cave is flooded.

You are trapped.

There is no way out.

And on top of all of that, no one even knows where you are.

“Holy mother of God,” and similar expressions seem appropriate at that moment.

In the course of my ministry, I have spoken with numerous people who can perfectly relate to those now internationally famous Thai boys… “The Wild Boars” as we now call them. I have known:

  • People who have ventured into dark places… just out of curiosity… to see what they were like.
  • People who went deeper and deeper because… well, why not?
  • People who suddenly found themselves trapped in that dark place with no conceivable way out… desperate… panicked… out of options and out of hope.

But just like the Wild Boars, many of those people also discovered that they weren’t forgotten. They discovered that the world contains remarkable people (and a Remarkable Person) who are willing to sacrifice everything to dive down into that dark place and bring them back out into the light… even if it means doing so at the cost of their own lives.

We all rejoice today at the incredible rescue of the 12 Wild Boars and their coach. I am certain the wheels are already turning in Hollywood to produce a cinematic retelling of this “real-life drama.”

With the rest of the world, I thank God for the bravery of the Thai Navy SEALS and the scores of other volunteers who made this miracle happen.

But I also pray this event will spur us to remember that “great rescue operation” that happened over 2,000 years ago where WE were pulled out of the darkest of dark places and returned to the light.

In case you’ve forgotten, it is recounted right here, in Romans 5:8 – “But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.”

Praise God for ALL miraculous rescues…

… but especially for mine.




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