Posts Tagged ‘sacrifice

19
Aug
19

Uncommonly Common

Alien invasionIf there is one thing we have proved conclusively in this country, it is that, contrary to the old saying, what’s good for the goose is NOT necessarily also good for the gander.

At least that’s what the gander seems to think.

Even a casual glance will tell you that here in 2019 these states of ours are anything but united.

Group A passionately defends their version of a “common-sense solution,” while Group B howls in protest, deeply offended. Group C is convinced that both A and B are “wacko nutjobs” and wants nothing to do with either.

Each of us has become adept at articulating the outcome that will be in MY best interest, but we have become clumsy and tongue-tied when it comes to nailing down a clear picture of what WE, together, might need.

What I am referring to, of course, is that ancient concept called “the common good.” A version of the common good was first articulated by the authors of the Magna Carta in June 1215 in Runnymede, England. This cornerstone document established the principle that everyone is subject to the law, even the king, and guaranteed the rights of individuals, the right to justice and the right to a fair trial.[1] The foundational principle of the Magna Carta holds that leaders of nations should devote themselves to pursuing a “good” that is held in common by all… regardless of political party or station in life.

What a concept!

One has to wonder though; in this age of runaway individuation is it even possible to speak about pursuing something so all-encompassing as a “common good”?

Last year former Clinton secretary of labor Robert Reich wrote a book called The Common Good in which he said, “What binds us as Americans is not birth or ethnicity but a commitment to fundamental ideals and principles: respect for the rule of law and democratic institutions, toleration of our differences and belief in equal political rights and equal opportunity.”

These ideals and principles, Reich says, are not political, at least not in the partisan sense; to affirm them is not to take sides in debates between Democrats and Republicans.

I am sure that people of varying political stripes can easily agree that things like safety, health, shelter, education, and freedom are all social goods worth pursuing. But what happens when two of these goods conflict with each other? Or when there are two or three or 500 different ideas of how to attain one of these highly desirable ends?

It might be that the real obstacle to rallying around a common good is that it will likely require each of us to sacrifice something. And as our current climate shows us, Americans are not terribly good at – or even very willing to – sacrifice.

When Jesus taught his disciples the words of what we now call The Lord’s Prayer, he included the line, “… thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” That phrase helps us see that God’s kingdom is that place where the common good is the watchword of every citizen and where people understand that none of us is well until all of us are well.

Sometimes I confess to feeling as if we are moving further and further away from that vision instead of coming closer. When one nation says, “America first!” and another says, “Italy first!” and another says, “India first!” I can’t help but wonder if we are, in fact, pronouncing the death sentence to any consideration of the common good.

The way Hollywood dramatizes one solution to this issue is by having earth invaded by vicious, city-stomping aliens. As our collective future is suddenly thrown into dire jeopardy, everyone lays down his or her partisan flag and bands together to save the planet!

Maybe it won’t come to that.

Maybe there will be an invasion by the Holy Spirit instead.

[1]The Independent, Feb. 2, 2015

08
Jul
19

The Overmow

Mowing the lawn“… outdo one another in showing honor.”                                    Romans 12:10, NRSV

My next-door neighbor and I are in a competition.

Not that I’m keeping score or anything, but I think I just went ahead by one earlier today. (Self high five!)

We are competing on neighborliness with a little thing I call the “gracious overmow.”

Here is how it works; if I happen to get out and mow my grass before Tom – my neighbor to the west – mows his, I don’t stop mowing at our property line. I go all the way over to the side of his house… mowing grass that actually belongs to him.

And if Tom happens to get out and mow his grass before me, he does the same.

We never actually talk about it. We just do it.

I have also tried to practice gracious overmowing with my neighbor to the east, but he apparently hasn’t caught on to how the system works.

Honestly, it is a little bit of a pain when I am the one doing the overmowing. It makes my mowing time about 50 percent longer than usual. But when Tom beats me to the punch… it is AWESOME!

Zip, zip! Done!

It all made me wonder… could this be done on a larger scale? Could I find other areas of life in which I might “overdo” a kind gesture?

Could I, for example:

  • “Overshovel” my neighbor’s sidewalk in the winter?
  • Pull weeds from my neighbor’s yard?
  • Fetch my wife a Diet Coke before she even asks me?
  • Graciously allow a fellow motorist to cut in front of me in traffic?
  • Pick up someone else’s dog poop? (Ew, no… scratch that one. Too gross.)
  • Leave that last box of corn flakes on the grocery shelf for someone who might need it more than me?
  • Toss someone’s newspaper a little closer to their house than the paperboy did?

And could I do it, not just for nice guys like my neighbor Tom, but could I do this stuff for total strangers, too? … Or for people that are kind of grumpy, disagreeable, and hard to get along with?

What a concept!

But then, as I was contorting my right arm into a pretzel shape trying to pat myself on the back for having such kind-hearted, altruistic thoughts, I heard a voice. As I listened a little more closely, it seemed to be the voice of Jesus, whispering to me…

“Dude…” he said. “If you call yourself a follower of mine that’s the kind of stuff you should be doing anyway. Routinely. It’s nice, but honestly, it’s no biggie.”

He continues, “Don’t just stop with a few cutesy, quaint little gestures like that. Feed the hungry. Visit the sick. Go to the prisons and comfort those unjustly confined. Locate injustices in the world and become actively engaged in righting them.”

“If you really want to make a difference, take a few risks. Stick your neck out. Try doing something that just might be unpopular enough to LOSE you a friend or two… even though it’s the right thing. Don’t be content to stick to the safe stuff that makes people like you more.”

“Come back and talk to me after you have been unjustly criticized for advocating for the people I tend to hang out with… you know, the misfits, the outcasts, and the people on the margins. I probably won’t give you a medal or anything, but I’ll be pleased.”

Gee thanks, Jesus.

You really know how to rain on a guy’s parade, don’t you?

Think I’ll go mow my yard now.

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;

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.

28
May
18

Remembering. And Giving Thanks

GravestonesWhen you grow up – as I did – in the state of Ohio, a mere one state east of the state of Indiana, Memorial Day only meant ONE THING: listening to the Indianapolis 500 auto race on the radio. OK, make that TWO THINGS: add cranking up a batch of homemade ice cream on the back porch to the list. And most of the time there was also a big family picnic down by the river to cap off the day.

As a kid, I always thought of the Memorial Day weekend just a fun-filled beginning to the time of summer vacation. But all of that changed when some of my high school buddies were drafted and went off to the war in Vietnam. If you are old enough to remember that war, you also remember that it was not a war that the whole country rallied around and supported very well.

But despite the Vietnam War’s unpopularity, I remember that each of those young men from my hometown of Hilliard, Ohio who left to go fight were proud to go and convinced it was the right thing to do.

Most of those guys came back. But sadly, several did not. And because this was a small town, I knew the families of every one of the young men who were killed in that war, half a world away, fighting for something they believed in. And from that moment on, Memorial Day took on a whole new meaning for me.

Yes, I have continued to listen to the Indy 500; won this year, incidentally, by an Australian. Yes, I have continued to enjoy homemade ice cream, family picnics, and Opening Day of the community swimming pool. But underneath all of the fun and festivity of the holiday, I found that my eyes had been opened to a new understanding of the true meaning of this beloved national holiday.

And looking back, I realize I also received a new understanding of what this country is all about, too.

You see, before I saw those bright, promising young men of my hometown come home in coffins, the word “sacrifice” was really not part of my vocabulary. I honestly thought a “sacrifice” meant having to wait patiently for an hour and a half for your ice cream instead of being able to eat it from the carton right away.

The young men of Hilliard taught me that the principle of “voluntary self-sacrifice” is the TRUE foundation on which this country is – and has always been – built. Through them, I learned that the real secret and magic of this country is the people who put the needs of OTHERS on a higher level than their own. It is about people who ask, “What can I give?” instead of “What can I get?”Our country is built on the backs of the people who say, “YES!” without hesitation when asked to give 100% of their body, mind, and soul to a cause. Just like these men you see before you here today.

This basic truth is what led President John F. Kennedy to famously state, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”

As stirring and as profound as Kennedy’s statement is, followers of Jesus Christ immediately recognize that it is simply a restatement of a message he spoke over 2,000 years ago. As Jesus was preparing his disciples for his coming death, he gathered them around and said to them, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who sacrifice their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”(John 12:24-26, NRSV).

So yes… today let’s celebrate that the United States of America is the land of the free. Let’s remember that this country is the greatest demonstration the world has ever seen of the strength that comes from diversity. It is the “shining city on a hill” rich with natural resources, hard-working people, and an unbreakable spirit.

But without the willingness of men and women to serve and pay the ultimate price for unseen future generations, we are just one nation among many.

With their sacrifices, the men and women buried here gave us the lives we are able to live today. We owe them more than we can ever possibly repay.

Let us each pledge today that we will NEVER, EVER take that gift for granted.

30
May
17

Why Not the Cross?

the-cross-300x261WIIFM. No. Those are not the call letters of a new radio station on the FM dial.

It is also not a funny way of saying the word for the goal of a baseball pitcher when facing an opposing batter. (Whiff ‘em. Get it??)

WIIFM is a shorthand version of a question that guides many of the creative decisions of people who work in mass marketing.

I am familiar with this secret code lingo because I used to work in that business.

WIIFM stands for: “What’s In It For Me?”

The advice given to an eager young marketer goes something like this: “It’s fine and dandy to stand up and trumpet all the things that make your product the best thing since sliced bread. Your customer doesn’t give two hoots about any of that. The only question they want you to answer is ‘What’s in it for me?’”

And you know what? The folks dispensing that advice are right.

When I am standing there in the middle of Home Depot, I really don’t care how many coats of paint or what kind of paint this barbeque grill has, or why the grate is such a marvelous design, or how many BTU’s it heats up to.

I just want you to tell me how my life will improve by buying this particular grill.

And honestly… if I am using my resources for anything more expensive than a pack of gum, my only question (well, besides “How much does it cost?”) is going to be, “What’s in it for ME?”

WIIFM is a question that works well in the mass marketing profession.

I guess that is why it is SO TEMPTING to try and use it when I am talking to someone about the Christian faith.

It is no secret that the fastest growing segment of the FAITH universe today is the group that checks the box labeled “None of the above” when asked about their religious preference.

Pastors, volunteer leaders, members of religious hierarchies of all stripes are wringing their hands and wracking their brains to figure out how to stem the tide of decline in the mainline church today.

When the first signs of decline began appearing, creative minds began spinning. And it seemed as if the church’s focus was not that different from our market-driven brethren. We tried to understand and respond to the “What’s In It For Me?” question posed by the growing numbers of the None-of-the-Aboves.

We offered rock music, light shows, comfy seating, free coffee, donuts, preferred parking, hand-delivered coffee cups, hip graphics, and video clips, toned-down symbolism, and much more.

And still the decline continued.

Our actions communicate a specific answer to the “What’s in it for me?” question. We seem to say, “Join the church and hear powerful, contemporary music in a comfortable, well-appointed environment, bond with like-minded people, get some motivation and inspiration, see and be seen by your friends, and get a great, rousing start to your week.”

Jesus had a slightly different answer. When he talked to people about following him and they asked, “What’s in it for me?” he said, “A cross. Hardship. Suffering. Ridicule. Rejection. Maybe even death.”

“Oh yeah… and eternal life, too.” (Mark 8:31-38, paraphrased).

In his lifetime, Jesus didn’t “move the needle” a whole lot on the evangelism front. There were a lot of curious bystanders, but not many who heard his recruitment pitch and ran forward saying, “A cross? Really? Where do I sign?”

His numerical results didn’t come until a lot later.

The apostle Paul knew the cross was a “tough sell” in his setting, too. He said, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (I Corinthians 1:22-24, NRSV).

There’s no getting around it; you can’t follow Christ without the cross.

So why not just come out and say it and let God do the rest?

It seemed to work out pretty well before.

Abundant blessings;

18
Jul
16

THE PURSUIT OF SAFETY

BostonMolassesDisasterLet’s talk about safety for a minute…

Are you safe? Why? Why not?

If you do NOT feel safe right now, what would it take to make you feel safe?

What are the things that cause your sense of safety to erode?

On a list of all of the values you hold, how high on that list is the value of SAFETY?

Last question (for now): Where does safety come from? In other words, what makes us safe?

On a very basic level I am drawn to the idea of safety. Great feelings of warmth and affection wash over me when I remember hearing my mother or father say something like, “It’s OK… you’re safe now.” Or, “Safe and sound.”

SAFETY feels like a warm, impenetrable cocoon that follows me and covers me wherever I go.

I think it is also accurate to say that because of my race and social standing I have come to view a sense of safety as an entitlement… something the world owes me. I honestly cannot tell you the last time I walked or drove anywhere that caused me to actually fear for my physical safety. And that includes walking into the University of Texas stadium for a football game wearing my full MIZZOU regalia.

As important as we would all probably agree that safety is, do you think we are ever guilty of turning SAFETY into an idol… i.e., something elevated to the place of ultimate importance in our lives? And if we agreed that it is indeed possible to worship the idol of safety, I also have to wonder how this posture shapes us and the way we “do community” with one another?

Because frankly sometimes it is just not very safe at all to relate to another person. For starters, they might smell bad. They might have odd habits. They might not be polite. They might hold different truths than you do. They might challenge your faith and ideals. They might be mentally unstable.

Taking the chance of relating to a person you don’t already know could endanger the safety of your body, your mind, and your worldview all at once.

Let’s face it: building bridges is dangerous. Especially if you don’t exactly know what is on the other side of the bridge.

Building walls is safe.

Worshiping safety would probably also mean never trying out an idea that had an uncertain chance of success. Because if you tried out your idea and it failed, you could lose money… prestige… credibility… and maybe even friends.

But don’t just take my word for it. Ask anyone who has ever tried to take a new, different, strange, or offbeat idea and make it fly. They will tell you they have lost one or all of those in the process.

In all seriousness, you know what is REALLY dangerous? The pursuit of safety as our ultimate community value… that’s what.

Elevating safety to ultimate importance means taking no risks… venturing into no new territories… initiating no new relationships. It means withdrawing. It means committing yourself to looking suspiciously upon anyone or anything that approaches you. It means putting all of your energy into defending THE WAY THINGS ARE and fighting off the encroachment of THE WAY THINGS MIGHT BE.

Because let’s face it: there is nothing any of us can do to absolutely ensure our personal safety. You might have been unlucky enough, for example, to have been walking down a North End Boston city street in 1919 at the exact moment of the Great Boston Molasses Flood. Caused by the bursting of a large molasses storage tank, the Great Flood killed 21 people and injured another 150. (Source: Wikipedia. That is the picture at the top of this blog post). It is safe to say that none of the victims imagined “death by molasses” for themselves, that day or any day.

Worshiping safety also means you would have to turn in your “Person of Faith” card. This is because we rely on our own devices and not God to provide our security. We imagine that a higher wall, a bigger gun, a deadlier bomb, a more powerful X-Ray, or a better set of laws will give us the safety we seek. Proverbs 29:25 helpfully reminds us, “The fear of others lays a snare, but one who trusts in the Lord is secure.” (Proverbs 29:25, NRSV).

The truth is: SAFETY comes from God and God alone.

In his life and preaching SAFETY seemed to exist – if it existed at all – at the very bottom of Jesus’ priority list. Time and time again we see him endangering his personal safety by violating Sabbath laws, eating with the wrong people, pronouncing forgiveness to sinners (“Who is this that thinks he can forgive?”), touching lepers, walking on water, and defying political and religious authority.

And as we watch Jesus work, we know his courage doesn’t come from the heart of a daredevil; it comes from an unshakable faith in the God who created him and sent him into the world on his mission of mercy. Jesus summed up his own views on security pretty well when he said, “Those who try to make their life secure will lose it, but those who lose their life will keep it.” (Luke 17:33, NRSV).

Safety and security are important. But pursuing these as the ultimate value of life is not only unfaithful to God’s word… it is downright dangerous to the world. As Jesus said to his disciples in his farewell message in John: “I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” (John 16:33, NRSV).

AMEN.




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