Posts Tagged ‘heaven

27
Jun
20

Daring to Follow

Us vs them tribalismI just tried an experiment on Facebook to see what might happen.

I didn’t originally intend to make this experiment the topic of a blog post, but the results were so interesting I just had to share them with y’all. (Or you‘uns, whichever plural form of “you” you prefer.)

It recently occurred to me that within my circle of Facebook friends and acquaintances, are a bunch of people who readily identify themselves as conservatives and a bunch who consider themselves liberals, or progressive. “Why not…” I thought to myself, “… ask both groups the same question and see how similar or different the responses are?”

My first post, earlier this week, was headlined, “SERIOUS QUESTION: FOR CONSERVATIVES ONLY.” The question was, “What do you see as the biggest threat facing our country today?” A couple of days later I reposted the same question but asked only those who identify themselves as progressives to respond.

Before I tell you what people in my – admittedly totally unscientific survey – said, stop a minute and come up with your own answer. The only ground rule is that you may NOT answer with the name of any prominent national politician.

Although people articulated their answers in a lot of different ways, there were genuine threads of commonality running through the responses from both sides.

On the conservative side there were a couple of short answers like, “Breakdown of the family,” and “National debt,” but many of the respondents really tried to dig below the surface and come up with something more foundational. Clif echoed the thoughts of many of his conservative brethren when he said, “… destruction of social capital through unproductive and unnecessary conflict driven by tribalism and disrespect.” Meaning; we spend an inordinate amount of time choosing up sides and then demonizing anyone on the OTHER side.

Boom! I believe you nailed it, Clif.

On the other side of the coin there were, again, a few short, single-issue answers such as, “Health care,” “climate change,” “COVID-19,” and “government deregulation,” but most respondents here also tried to dig a bit below the surface and identify something more root-like.

The themes of greed and “inflated self-interest” were probably the biggest themes in the answers from progressive folks. But then Abe took that theme to the next level when he said, “The extreme liberalization of economies is diminishing the power of legitimate governments to put in place regulations that address big issues like the existential threat of climate change.”

You probably don’t need me to translate, but what I heard Abe saying was, “When everyone thinks only about gratifying their own desires, they rarely come up with solutions that benefit the populace as a whole.”

Tribalism.

Division.

Greed.

Self-interest.

Racism.

Can you see the thread running through each of these? In each case folks – on both sides of the political spectrum – are identifying the exact same soul sickness Jesus repeatedly addressed throughout his ministry. Jesus knew that when we exclusively think about OURSELVES and OUR NEEDS, we as individuals (and we as a nation) are on a one-way road to misery, conflict, and ultimately ruin.

When the rich young ruler asked Jesus about the secret to eternal (or the ultimately fulfilled) life, Jesus told him that in addition to following the law… “There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven…” (Luke 18:22, NRSV).

When the need arose to clarify his mission and purpose to his closest followers Jesus minced no words. He said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24, NRSV).

When he faced the end of his earthly life and sought to impart his ultimate marching orders to his followers there in the Garden, Jesus said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:12-13,NRSV).

Put simply, sacrificing our needs and wants to ensure our neighbor’s well-being is not an act reserved for the saintliest among us.

It is the path Jesus prescribed for every one of us.

Do we dare to follow?

Do we dare NOT to?

 

Abundant blessings;

06
Feb
18

Barcode Faith*

Barcode scannerMy friend Mike died yesterday.

Mike had been in the process of dying of cancer for the past six months or so.

I had been to see Mike over the weekend and if not for the full, gray beard and knit stocking cap he still wore, I would not have recognized him. He was a pale, confused shell of the intense, vibrant, lively man I first met more than 20 years ago.

Mike’s wife contacted me yesterday morning and said he had declined rapidly since then. The hospice nurse had given him no more than 24-48 hours.

I was able to get to their home – where hospice had set up a bed for Mike – and pray with them, read some scripture, and anoint his forehead with oil.

Then, at about 9:00 last night, I received the text from Mike’s wife telling me that he had died peacefully earlier that evening. She expressed gratitude for the brief, informal bedside service.

In many ways, it was a similar scene to the one that played out just a few months ago with my son’s high school chum, Brandon. Brandon died in the hospice facility rather than at home, but the journeys of Mike and Brandon through the last stages of their lives on earth were very similar.

From the stunned incredulity of the initial diagnosis to the evangelical frenzy of research into the latest findings about treatments, cures, experiments, and support groups, to the disappointment with treatment results, to declarations of their unyielding commitment to fight on, to unexpected turnarounds, to the final stages of the relentless decline of mind, body, and spirit… Mike and Brandon’s journeys bore eerie similarities.

There was one marked difference, however.

About a month before he died – on the eve of his 40th birthday – Brandon asked me to baptize him.

Throughout most of his life, Brandon had never really professed a religious faith of any kind. He had dabbled here and there with spiritual forms that appealed to his voracious intellect, but always found deep flaws in every one of them, he said, that prevented him from pledging allegiance to any.

But something somewhere changed. Over the course of many meetings and conversations over coffee, Brandon casually asked me one day if I would baptize him… in a church… with friends and family present.

I was delighted by his request and agreed to immediately set something up. But his request was not followed by a secret, personal moment when I gleefully carved a notch in my pastor’s belt. I can honestly say I did nothing overt to steer him in that direction.

And even though I had similar conversations and cups of coffee with Mike as his disease progressed… and even though Mike was also a card-carrying member of the “spiritual, not religious” fraternity, no request for baptism and confession of Jesus as Lord and savior ever came from him.

All of which begs several questions: based on the story of these two journeys, do you believe there is a difference in Mike’s eternity vs. Brandon’s? And if so, what is that difference? And why?

Surprisingly, there is a correct answer to this question; and that answer is: “God and God alone knows.”

As the renowned writer in Christian spiritual formation, Dallas Willard, once famously opined, it is unreasonable to believe that God operates with the faith equivalent of a system of barcodes. What that means is; if you went into a store and pulled a barcode off of a box of Cheerios and slapped it onto a claw hammer, the scanner at the cash register would tell you that the claw hammer was actually a box of Cheerios.

In the same way, it is reasonable to believe that when we show up at the gates of eternity, God probably does more than scan us with his Holy Barcode Reader… using the question, “Did she/he speak the magic phrase before they died?” as his guide.

I am sure the analysis goes deep… even deeper than actually looking to see whether we are, in fact, a hammer or a box of Cheerios.

Believe it or not, God has actually spoken directly to the “barcode faith” question on several different occasions. You can find one quote in the book of Isaiah, in the 55th chapter, ninth verse: “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:9, NRSV).

We see another commentary in the book of I Samuel when the prophet Samuel is preparing to anoint Jesse’s runt-of-the-litter son David as the next king of Israel. Samuel (as prophets often do) speaks God’s mind and says, “… for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (I Samuel 16:7, NRSV).

Please join me today in praying for the families of Mike and Brandon as they struggle to cope with life without the dearly beloved husbands, sons, fathers, and friends these two men were.

Join me also in making a renewed commitment every day to living a life that would be pleasing to the deep-looking, all-knowing eye of God.

 

* (Today’s post is the story of the deaths of two friends. Out of respect for the families I am not using the real names of the main characters.)




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