Russell Moore offers help for families

My copy of Russell Moore’s book, The Storm-Tossed Family, arrived this weekend. Russell:

These families of ours can be filled with joy, but will always make us vulnerable to pain. And the joy and the pain are pointing us to the same place: the cross. Nothing can show you that you are loved and that you belong like family–and nothing can strip away your crafted pretensions and comforting illusions like family [p. 3].

As I share this, I’m thinking that friends are in different places with their families. Some of you are in a real time of thankfulness for the love in your families, and some of you are hurting with pain. Both point us to the cross that symbol of God’s love, the pain that comes from love, and the hope that arises through love.

To my friends whose lives and families are storm tossed right now, you may want to recall the biblical story that Russell cites in the first chapter of his book. On a storm-tossed sea, with Jesus asleep in the boat, the disciples panicked. “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:38). Jesus spoke to the storm, “Peace! Be still.” And peace came.

The storms of life do not respond too well to me. All I know is to give them to God, which isn’t easy for those of us who like to fix things.

Russell sites another storm and a boat with those same disciples.

Jesus, again was preternaturally calm, walking out on the storm-tossed waters themselves. When Peter attempted to join him, though, he was knocked down, not so much by the storm as by his own panic. . . . Jesus, of course, grabbed him by the hand [p. 4].

Peter took it.

May we today take Jesus’ hand of help in the midst of our panic. That “hand” is sufficient.

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USA is no typical nation

People fleeing Western Europe in the 17th century created a unique civilization eventually called the United States. They left Europe but brought its ways and ideas with them — some that we cannot be proud of now, such as ideas of racial superiority, and some we can be proud of, such as unleashing human potential.
 
The English-centered nature of the U.S. civilization began, with time, to expand to be more broadly European, then more African, Hispanic, and Asian. (Africans participated from the start but were subjugated and oppressed. It took emancipation to free them to help lead this nation into its greatest days.)
 
Some things written 100 years ago about immigration can be instructive now. I’ve encountered two quotes lately that I love for describing the USA.
 
Randolph Bourne praised the United States as “the first international nation” in 1916.
 
Horace Kallen spoke of the USA as a “symphony of civilization” in 1915.
 
The historical context is different today, but I still like those two ways of describing and understanding the USA — an international nation and a symphony of civilization.

Trying to find the Jesus side of Christmas

There are always two sides to Christmas. There is the 2,000-year-old side of it with the Emmanuel Moment — God with us — in the birth of Jesus. Then there is the today side of our experience with the living Christ.

On the today side, if the subject of religion comes up, I often say to people that I’m a Jesus guy, at least I’m trying to be — the highest standard can never be fully met. The odd thing that happens is the look I get. People don’t seem to know what to do with that response — with a Jesus guy or gal.

I guess it’s easier to respond Baptist, Catholic, Methodist, Calvinist, Muslim, Buddhist, or whatever. Then we can put people into neat little contemporary boxes.

To say one is a Jesus person is to be a bit odd, I guess. I think it’s because most people only think of Christmas and Easter when they hear of Jesus — a miraculous birth, a brutal death, and an astounding resurrection.

New birth and death to ordinary life are part of what it means to be a Jesus person, but Jesus’ life conveyed so much more. He healed hurting people. He taught confused people. He challenged and confounded religious people. Most importantly he loved God and people.

When I say I’m trying to be a Jesus person this is what I mean. I’m trying to die to self and live to Christ — trying. I’m trying to bring healing to hurting people out of my own hurts. I’m trying to teach confused people out of my own confusion. I’m trying to challenge and confound religious people out of my own need to be challenged and confounded. I’m trying to love God and people.

A special star announced the first Christmas. Today, each Christ follower is a new star shining into darkness — pointing toward new life.

May we live with the awakening brought about by that first birth and all of the new births it has led to since that day.

Education is about raising awareness

I’m reading a fascinating book — Educated: A Memoir, by Tara Westover. She just used a word that unpacks the meaning of education — awareness. Education makes us aware of things we did not know before.
“I had started on a path of awareness,” she writes. And this new awareness caused her to “perceive something elemental about my brother, my father, myself.”
 
Her brother had been calling her the N- word, even though she was white. Previously she had not been fully aware of the truth about slavery and discrimination, but college had begun opening her eyes.
 
“I had discerned the ways in which we had been sculpted by a tradition given to us by others, a tradition of which we were either willfully or accidentally ignorant.”
 
Note “ignorant,” not unintelligent. Her family had remained unknowing of certain true things.
 
“I had begun to understand that we had lent our voices to a discourse whose sole purpose was to dehumanize and brutalize others–because nurturing that discourse was easier, because retaining power always feels like the way forward.” (p.180)
 
This is why education is so important; it makes us aware of things we do not know. And our ignorance is affecting how we live our lives. Education gets us out of our prejudices, whether they be racial or whatever.

Finding joy by running in the wind

My brown, wavy hair once grew to touch my shoulders. At that same time, my legs could move me faster than most young men when running full tilt. It is odd to remember the sensation, but one of the things I loved then was to feel my hair blowing in the wind created by my own endeavor, my own speed.

Four decades later, I still think of letting my now-white hair grow long just so I can experience that sensation again. I surely cannot run as fast, but I think I could run fast enough.

Why did that sensation strike me then and stay with me so long. Maybe it was the feeling of freedom. Maybe it was not psychological at all. It could merely have been the molecules of my hair roots massaging my scalp in a way that is pleasing, as when you touch the skin of a newborn baby. Maybe a bit of both.

When riding my bicycle, the same thing happened — hair blowing in the wind (no helmet) — but I do not have memories of feeling the same satisfaction. It’s as if my subconscious self minimized the feeling when machine-aided; something inside me knew when it was my energy alone creating the thrill.

Have you ever noticed in real life the difference between the speeds of light and sound? It doesn’t happen often. I noticed it clearly once as I watched a car entering a freeway in Dallas and plowing into the backend of a Ram pickup. I saw it, before I heard it — clearly. It was about 50 yards in front of me. That’s the difference between the speeds of light (seeing) and sound (hearing) in very non-technical terms.

I’ve also seen it on highways as the smoke from braking tires is seen before the squeal is heard. (I drive too much.)

Those two speeds are constant (though it gets technical). The difference is always there, but we don’t usually notice it.

The key is noticing.

There may be another factor in my experience. I didn’t have it until I was in my upper teens.

I grew up with a crew cut (very short) then migrated to a longer-but-well-trimmed haircut. During my crew-cut years, I never experienced the sensation of hair blowing in the wind. When my hair got a little longer, hair blowing in the wind meant only that my well-oiled hairdo had been disturbed — not good when your hair has to look just so.

When, at about 17, I let my hair begin to grow longer (against Dad’s wishes), I experienced something new — for me.  Sometimes the wind, on its own, blew my hair this way and that into a mess. But running differed. When I ran, the wind pushed my hair back and away from my eyes, and I finally noticed the joy of it.

I felt free, as if in some small way I was escaping time and space and simply experiencing pleasure in that moment. We really need to at times to just feel the joy of being human — created in the image of God, who clearly loves joy.

Moral of the story: When we move through life using the gifts God has implanted in us we can experience great joys and little joys. When we don’t use those gifts, we never know what we are missing. That’s why it’s so important for us to tell each other about the little and odd joys that just come from living as the gifted persons God has made each of us to be. It may encourage someone else to live a little.

And here is one more thought: Some Christians seem afraid of freedom and joy. They are bound up in fear and anger. This is so sad. The world turned to Jesus because of the love, forgiveness, hope, joy, and celebration that He has brought to living. We need only notice it.

And, don’t tempt me, or I may let my white hair grow long, part it down the middle again, and run like the wind — or more like a breeze. Trese, however, would not like that look on me, so I may need to just dream it.

 

‘When bad things happen . . .’

On the phone to my oldest son last night a thought popped into my mind. And when thoughts pop into my mind, they often pop out of my mouth. I said:

“When bad things happen, some people blame God. I’m not like that. When bad things happen, I blame Satan.”

I don’t use “Satan” language much. But I believe evil is at work in this world, and sometimes it helps to personify it in order to fight it.

I do say this a fair amount: “Earth is not Heaven. We get glimpses of Heaven here, but we also get glimpses, some very big glimpses of Hell.”

We are nanby-panby about God sometimes because we think of this place as benign, as the Garden of Eden Extended. It’s not. This is a fallen world.

I can get worked up about this; you gathered. The cancer didn’t make me that way. The suffering I’ve seen made me this way.

Two days ago I got some good news, there is no evidence the cancer in my prostate has gotten beyond it, and it’s now gone. Good news! Celebration!

Well, there’s more. There was some not-so-good news: the cancer is more aggressive and advanced than the docs originally thought. No time to panic, but it does mean eight weeks of radiation are in my near future. Celebrate! There are good tools to fight this stuff.

So that was the context for my comment to Landon tonight. I don’t expect this cancer to kill me, but if it does, God is not to blame. God doesn’t do this kind of thing. The Divine is on the side of life, true life. God’s still got us in this Hellish-with-a-touch-of-Heaven place because God is calling all of creation into Divine relationship, and God wants us to help do it.

It gets messy at times because Satan or whatever you want to call it, the Dark Side maybe, is working against the life-giving of our Creator.

So pray for me, please, because I don’t like the Dark Side winning anything. We let God know that we really do care about each other when we pray. We love. We pray. God hears. God rejoices because when we love we are like God, and this is the Divine purpose revealed in Christ.

Sorry, I got kind of wound up. I’m competitive by nature. I want people to know that as “we” fight this cancer we are not just fighting a disease; we are fighting all that is bad in this world. We are going to continue to lose some of those we love to cancers, to other diseases, to disasters, to accidents, to this and to that, but in the end we win. Love wins. God wins.

Good enough for me. I love you, my family and friends.

We have forgotten how Jesus fished

Listening to the hymn, “Fishers of Men,” this morning I thought of Jesus’ words about how he would draw all people to himself.

Real fishing like I did with my dad decades ago involved casting a plastic lure attached to a monofilament line in among the underwater lairs of hungry bass. One fish bites. I set the hook into their mouths by yanking out the line’s slack. The bass fights. One of us wins; one loses.

When Jesus called Simon and Andrew to be fishers of men he did not call them to cast spiritual lures with hard-to-see line and trick unsuspecting people to grab hold and fight.

Simon and Andrew used nets to catch fish. They cast their weave out of their boat and hoped to capture fish below. I do not think Jesus was calling Simon and Andrew to go and cast spiritual nets to capture unsuspecting people. It surely is not what Jesus did.

Jesus merely meant: Come go with me and become a person who spends his day drawing  people, not fish, into your life. All metaphors have limits; they do not work completely. They help us get over a mental hurdle. Simon and Andrew’s lives were centered around fishing; Jesus’ call invited them to center their lives around humanity.

Starting somewhere in the not-too-distant past, my brand of Christian began to think of “fishing for men” as casting lures, snagging spiritually hungry people, and wrestling them into the church boat.

That is not what Jesus wants us to do. He wants us to do it the way he did it — by loving God and by loving our neighbor as ourselves. The lure of love has no hooks; it merely attracts. People who hunger for real living are drawn by that love.

Many people do not “go” to church because they do not see it as a place of love. Most people want to “be” in a community of love. They will reside where they are loved (wanted, respected, cared for) whether it be a bar, a gang, a club, or a church.

“And I, Jesus, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32, NRSV)

He draws. If we do not draw people, it is because we are not like Him, we do not love.