Saturday, July 09, 2005

Are You Angry with All the Anger?

Last year, when I ran in the Republican primary for the Ohio House of Representatives, I had a telephone conversation with a member of the local party's central committee.

"I gotta be honest with you," he said. "When you started writing your column for the Press--when was that?"

"95," I said.

"95? Okay, when you started writing it back in 95, I read it every time it appeared. But after awhile, I just stopped. Then, one day, I was talking with a friend and he told me the same thing..."

He paused, probably fearful that he could offend me.

"What?" I asked him.

"Well, we both agreed that we just sort of got bored with it."

Writers, of course, don't aim at boring their readers. So, I probed to determine why my columns bored this man and his friend.

It turned out that there just wasn't enough red meat, no earth-scorching, sin-damning, strawman-bashing rhetoric to suit his tastes.

Surf the blogging world or turn on your TV these days and you'll find a lot of nastiness, from reality shows to so-called "debates" on the cable channels, from movies that extol sadism and talk shows that celebrate violent language and violent actions to resolve interpersonal problems.

It seems that we're yelling at each other all the time and that anger is our modus operandi.

Don't get me wrong, I get angry, too. Often, my anger is born of selfishness, ignited by the world or the events of my day not going the ways I want them to go.

But my anger can also be legitimate, I think.

Self-righteousness makes me angry.

And I hate it when people are treated unjustly, be they children subjected to endless put-downs, innocent commuters riding subway trains, or minorities thwarted by discrimination.

I also get angry at political talk show hosts and pundits who seem bent on turning every political or religious conversation into Armageddon.

They allow anger or the never-ending search for hot buttons that will bring them attention and advertising revenues and book deals, to incite them into saying the most malevolent, dim-witted things.

All this anger--affected or real--doesn't help us make decisions as a society or help us work together, in the phrasing of the Constitution, "to form a more perfect union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and to our Posterity..."

Sometimes today, it appears to me that those aims are being torpedoed either by an attenuated Freudianism that encourages all of us to vent our spleens and look for new things to be outraged about or by the desperate desire for "success" born of attention-grabbing anger, all with the absurd idea that this is what healthy people do, that this is what citizens of a democracy do.

By the way, anger in itself isn't a bad thing, from a Biblical perspective. It's morally neutral. Anger only becomes bad when it's used in bad ways. So, don't write off what I'm saying as the candy-coated rhetoric of a Christian naif.

"Be angry, but do not sin," Paul says in the New Testament. "Don't let the sun go down on your anger."

In other words, the Bible's counsel is that we should own our anger in constructive ways. "Speak the truth in love," we're told.

Of course, on rare occasions, our anger might lead to volcanic outbursts. Christ, Who was sinless, had what I sometimes call His temple tantrum, when He saw extortionists make a killing off the credulous faith of earnest believers. In the temple in Jerusalem, He overturned their tables, threw down their coins, and "liberated" the animals they were selling at exorbitant prices for temple sacrifices.

What makes Jesus' action in the temple so alarming and impressive is that it's one of the few times when He displayed anger. But anger is the stock in trade of much of our public discourse and private conversation.

I realize that in rejecting anger as the language of normal debate and discussion, I am really out of step with my world. I hope that in itself doesn't sound self-righteous. I don't intend for it to be. It's just that all this anger makes me angry.

Do you ever feel this way, too?

UPDATE: Ann Althouse seems to have a slightly different perspective, at least in the case of one angry pundit, Christopher Hitchens.

Chaos and Creation in the Backyard

Whenever I read track listings from soon-to-be-released projects by recording artists I enjoy, I'm like the amateur filmmaker who made his own $20,000-version of Star Wars 3 and put it out on the Internet before George Lucas' film went to the theaters: I try to make guesses about what the real CDs will be like. I'm never right. But it's part of the fun of being a fan. (Does anybody else do this?)

I've been composing some songs in my mind during lull times today--in the shower, in my van, on the walking track. That's because of a new CD to be released this fall.

On the day when there was so much chaos in London, Paul McCartney announced the name and track listing of his latest LP, set for release on September 12. It will be called, Chaos and Creation in the Backyard.

The title, as well as the names of several track names, intrigue me.

The title itself evokes the first Biblical creation account, found in Genesis 1. There, God is portrayed as bearing His Spirit or unleashing His breath over the face of "the deep." In the Greek version of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, with which people of Jesus' first-century generation would have been familiar, the word for deep would have been bathos, a term denoting a roiling, death-infested storm. Chaos. From this chaos, God creates anew. It's the same thing God does today when His Spirit, bearing witness of what Jesus does for us, comes to us and gives us new life.

Whether McCartney's LP will bear a relationship to all of this, I don't know, of course. I'm just pumped to hear it.

Song titles and their times, according to the release from, include:

Fine Line 3:05
How Kind Of You 4:47
Jenny Wren 3:47
At The Mercy 2:38
Friends To Go 2:43
English Tea 2:12
Too Much Rain 3:24
A Certain Softness 2:42
Riding To Vanity Fair 5:07
Follow Me 2:31
Promise To You Girl 3:10
This Never Happened Before 3:26
Anyway 3:50

Total Running Time: 46:54

Friday, July 08, 2005

London Bombings: Four Things to Tell Our Children...and Each Other

The day after the attacks of September 11, 2001, I wrote this piece for my local newspaper column. It seems appropriate today. (By the way, this is the second thing posted to my blog, May 29, 2002. The first post, a piece on Bono, appeared the day before.)

London Bombings: A Lesson About Life

When London commuters descended into the Underground yesterday at about eight in the morning, nothing could have been less remarkable. Many, no doubt, were doing the same thing they'd done numerous mornings before: Heading into the city and their jobs.

As they pushed their ways onto the trains, taking seats or standing for the jostling rides to their various stops, they repeated well-worn rituals played out on buses and trains in cities all around the world every business morning. Some read newspapers. Others listened to their i-Pods, spoke with fellow passengers, worked on their laptops, desperately scanned the memos they meant to read the night before for their morning meetings, or simply thought about the evening behind or the night ahead.

But these rites were violently interrupted: loud reports, flying glass, mangled metal, smoke everywhere. Thirty-seven people suddenly lost their lives. Hundreds more were maimed, perhaps in ways that will mar their lives from now on.

Among the many lessons yesterday's terrorist attacks give to all of us is this: Life on this planet is fragile and in spite of all our delusions about having control over what happens to us, it can all be ended in a flash.

And it isn't just terrorist attacks that tell us this is so. "It's cancer and it's terminal," the doctor may tell us. "The heart is so badly damaged, there is little we can do." "Mrs. Jones, I'm sorry to tell you that your daughter was killed in a car crash this morning." Little of it makes the headlines, but people receive news like this every single day. It confirms a simple truth: With few widely-accepted exceptions, the ratio of deaths to births remains 1 to 1.

Some see this and become paralyzed, afraid to live. They roll up and die long before their hearts stop beating.

Others adopt an "eat, drink, and be merry" attitude, trying to drown out the reality of their own mortality with frenzied activity or the acquisition of money and stuff.

Others become obsessed with making their marks, whether on their families or the larger world.

Still others think to play God themselves, by deciding to end their own lives.

None of these attitudes will do. Some of them take this life too seriously. Others take it too flippantly.

We need to find a way that allows us to live this life to the fullest while understanding that there is something more. Jesus tells a story of a man who tore down his old barns in order to erect bigger ones in which to store all he owned and live a life of ease. As Jesus tells it:

"But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' So it is withose who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God." (Luke 12:20-21)

That wasn't a play for our money. Jesus "played"--lived, died, and rose--for much higher stakes than money. His whole object was to give us new lives, ones that start now and go on in eternity. (John 3:16; Second Corinthians 5:17; Romans 1:16-17; Romans 3:21-26) Jesus is inviting us to give ourselves to Him, the God-in-the-flesh Who gave Himself to us.

Jesus empowers all with faith in Him to live this life to its fullest, savoring each moment while accepting its inevitable end.

Jesus empowers all with faith in Him to face the future beyond our graves without dread or a sense of futility. We live in the certainty that nothing "will be able to separate us from the love of God."

Life is fragile. But God is strong.

Speaking for myself, I can say that when I latch onto the God made known through Jesus, I have a strength that isn't my own, one that enables me to relish my life and rejoice in my future. I wish the same thing for you!

UPDATE: Rob Asghar has linked to this piece. Thanks, Rob!

ANOTHER UPDATE: Steve Norris has also linked to this post. Thank you!

London Bombings: Lyrics to 'Freedom'

Paul McCartney's simple anthemic, Freedom, was first presented to New York City's first-responders during a concert which he organized after the attacks of September 11, 2001. Check out the lyrics here, appropriate once more in the wake of the London bombings.

We Are All Britons!

Thursday, July 07, 2005

London Bombings: Forgiveness?

On the Sunday following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, a troubled parishioner approached me. "I'm having a real tough time with this notion of 'turning the other cheek,'" he told me. He thought that he was under some obligation to "forgive and forget" what Osama bin Laden's henchmen had done. He also wondered if our country shouldn't seek revenge.

In our conversation, I shared a few thoughts with him, all of which seem relevant today.

First of all, I said that we human beings are incapable of forgetting misdeeds perpetrated against us. According to the Bible, only God is capable of forgetting our sins. Even in interpersonal relationships, we may forgive someone's sins against us and perhaps even rebuild the relationships. But until subsequent events allow trust to be reconstructed between us and the persons who violate us, we're foolish to ignore the things we remember.

Secondly, the New Testament's Greek word for forgive literally means release. We're slaves to our sin and its consequences until we are released from that slavery by God's forgiveness. When we refuse to forgive others, we block God's forgiveness from ourselves. When we do forgive, we allow God's forgiveness to flow to us. To forgive then, is to release another of their moral debts to us. That's why Jesus says that we should pray, "Forgive us as we forgive those who sin against us."

But it's possible to release someone--and therefore, ourselves--from the weight of sin and still allow justice, whether meted out by armies or judges, to be served. In 1981, Pope John Paul II was nearly killed by a would-be assassin, Mehmet Ali Agca. The pope recovered and Agca was incarcerated. Some time later, John Paul visited Agca in prison. There, an amazing scene unfolded, one recorded by a photographer. Agca, on bended knee, asked for the pope's forgiveness and John Paul granted it. But, as TIME magazine pointed out at the time, after granting Agca pardon, the pope nonetheless left the man who shot him to serve the balance of his prison sentence.

Forgiveness doesn't ignore the demands of justice. Put slightly differently, the giving of forgiveness doesn't preclude the doing of justice. According to the New Testament, God institutes governments on this earth so that those whose sinful impulses aren't constrained by the grace of God offered through Christ, will be thwarted or punished by the use of coercive power.

As the British government looks to act against the terrorists who bombed the London transportation system, it operates under the solemn obligation to execute justice on behalf of its citizens.

Finally and quite simply, there is a difference between vengeance and justice. Many people think that the Old Testament principle of "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" commends vengeful justice. Not so. The principle, in fact, is designed to limit the vengeful impulses we may feel in executing justice. The punishment, this axiom tells us, is never to exceed the crime. The punishment should fit the offense.

The Old Testament tells us that vengeance is God's and God's alone. But again, God places the responsibility for earthly justice in earthly governments.

London Bombings: Freedom and Life Are at Stake

Just yesterday, my family and I were in Washington, D.C. for the day. There, we visited the Supreme Court and the Smithsonian's American History museum. We traveled from and to Reagan National Airport, where we arrived and departed, via DC's fabulous subway system.

Ironically, London was on my mind. One reason was that, in anticipation of the International Olympic Committee's scheduled announcement of yesterday, I was pulling for London to be the site of the 2012 Olympics. Another was that, riding on Washington's Metro system put me in mind of London's Underground, which my family and I rode several times on our only trip to England, back in 2000.

As we entered several DC subway stations, I couldn't help but thinking how easy it would be for some coward with a bomb to wreak havoc, in this subway or in London's or New York's. Obviously, evil, gutless, godless people had the same thoughts about the Tube and acted malevolently on the insight yesterday.

It seems that during recent trips by plane, it's become routine for me to hear people complaining about having to be wanded, being asked questions about their travel plans, or getting told to take off their shoes before boarding airplanes. It's amazing to me how quickly we seem to have forgotten the horrors of September 11, 2001!

That's why I was glad to learn that the Department of Homeland Security today put all US railways on Orange Alert. I don't know about you, but I'm willing to add time to my trips, near and far, if we can thwart, intimidate, or slow down potential terrorists.

Hopefully, the events of July 7, 2005 in London will refresh Americans' memories of why we need to be vigilant in protecting our homeland from those who hate freedom. Part of that vigilance must include a willingness to put up with some inconveniences at airports and train and bus stations, at tourist attractions, and even perhaps on our Interstates.

Freedom is at stake, folks.

Life is at stake.

When apt to forget that, remember September 11 in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania. Remember March 11 in Madrid. Remember July 7 in London.

London Bombings: 'Like Having Your Best Friend Attacked'

I first learned of the London terrorist bombings at 5:30 this morning and since then, I've been unable to get them out of my mind.

To me, the attacks in Britain's capital have had as great an effect as those that happened in our country on September 11, 2001. It makes me heartsick.

This evening, my son-in-law said that he felt the same way. "It's like having your best friend get attacked," he said.

That's exactly how it feels.

So, to the British readers of this blog, let me just say that we are praying for you and I'm sure that America will stand with you as you find the cowards who perpetrated these ghastly attacks.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

James Stockdale Has Died

Admiral James Stockdale, an American hero who endured confinement as a POW during the Vietnam War and a brilliant student and exemplar of the best in human nature, has died at age 81. Sadly, Stockdale consented to being Ross Perot's vice presidential nominee in 1992. I say sadly because, as a non-politician, his demeanor in the vice presidential debate that year caused him to be unfairly dismissed as a buffoon.

In his book, Good to Great, author Jim Collins recounts an afternoon he spent with Stockdale, a meeting I talked about in a Sunday morning message on hope a few months ago. You can read it here.

The Dreaded A Word: Accountability in the Church

A person in our community recently sent an email my way. Preparing a presentation on the topic of accountability within the Church, this person asked if I might have some thoughts on the subject. This is the off-the-cuff response I gave. (It isn't profound. But what ideas might you have? Share them in the comments section):
This question is very important and usually neglected. So, I'm really impressed that you're tackling it as a topic for discussion!

In complete honesty, I get uncomfortable with most discussions I hear these days about accountability on the part of believers to one another. Some Christians appear to advocate and at times, practice a smug self-righteous that doesn't seem at all like Biblical accountability, which is meant to be mutual. The human penchant for smugness has made many churches forget about this subject altogether.

Yet, the New Testament makes it clear that we in the Church are accountable to one another. When we're unrepentant for sin toward others in the fellowship, Jesus gives a process by which correction and reconciliation can happen, for example. (Matthew 18:15-20) The whole reason Paul wrote First Corinthians is the spiritual arrogance that displayed by some believers in the Corinthian church, an arrogance that caused them to simply ignore, not only God's will about personal behaviors, but God's desire for believers to live in relationships of love with others. That's what First Corinthians 13 is really about.

This notion of mutual accountability is really rooted in the new and different relationship we have with God through Christ. Peter says that all believers are priests. (First Peter 2:9-10) And Jesus says that whatever we bind on earth will be bound in heaven, etc. In addition, Jesus condemns the notion of a spiritual hierarchy or of spiritual elites, in Matthew 24, most notably. The New Testament generally conveys the notion that all believers receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 8) and that God gives us the community of the Church so that together we can discern and do the will of God.

The big council at Antioch in the early Church was designed for the purpose of getting together, hashing out the question of how "Jewish" Gentile believers in Jesus needed to become, and then prayerfully deriving a solution from the process. Accountability inheres in this procedure. Unless the Church thought that believers were mutually accountable, they would have simply taken a "to each his/her own" attitude. But they didn't do that. What we say about Christ, how we proclaim Him, and what we do in practicing our faith are just three of many issues for which we Christians are accountable to other Christians. Christians are meant to live in a relationship of dependence on God and interdependence with other followers of Jesus.

To avoid the coercion of Pharisaism though, Paul reminds us to speak the truth to each other "in love." If that advice were more universally practiced, accountability within the body of Christ would not be fearsome at all. We could trust each other. We would know that the fellow believer who confronts us isn't out to destroy us, but build us (and the body of Christ) up and is willing also to admit that they could be wrong in their criticisms and judgments.

A pastor once shared his personal philosophy with me. "Mark," he said, "if I err, I try to err on the side of grace."

That makes sense to me. In our Small Catechism, Martin Luther starts out by explaining the meaning of the Ten Commandments. He has this penchant for putting positive spins on all the "thou shalt nots," demonstrating God's underlying positive intent for us in each commandment. When it comes to the command, "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor," Luther says:

"We are to fear and love God so that we do not betray, slander, or lie about our neighbor, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain his actions in the kindest way."

In other words, God wants us to do more than avoid lying about others' actions and character; God wants us to be our neighbors' advocates, just as Christ has been our Advocate.

If this is to be true of how we behave toward our unbelieving neighbor, it must surely be true of those who confess Jesus with us.

We are accountable to one another as believers, I think. And the very first element of that accountability, it seems to me, must be a willingness to forgive, to love, and to share grace just as we've been forgiven, loved, and graced by Christ.

I hope that this rather rambling bit of on-the-fly writing makes sense...and that it helps.

Blessings in Christ,

Bush Has Been Good for Africa, Kristoff Says

Read his column in today's New York Times. Darfur is seen as a shameful exception; otherwise Kristoff gives the President kudos.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Celebrating the Fourth of July in Russia

Read about it here.

A Solution to America's Church-State Conundrum

My son loves to flag interesting articles from publications like The Wall Street Journal, The Economist, and The New York Times during the wee-hour web-surfing he does and send emails to me about them. Among this morning's flagged articles is a piece by Noah Feldman, professor of law at New York University, in the Times. It deals with a solution of the Church-State conundrum in America.

The nub of Feldman's solution, worthy of thorough examination and discussion by all of us:
Despite the gravity of the problem, I believe there is an answer. Put simply, it is this: offer greater latitude for religious speech and symbols in public debate, but also impose a stricter ban on state financing of religious institutions and activities.
He goes on to explain:
Such a solution would both recognize religious values and respect the institutional separation of religion and government as an American value in its own right. This would mean abandoning the political argument that religion has no place in the public sphere while simultaneously insisting that government must go to great lengths to dissociate itself from supporting religious institutions. It would mean acknowledging a substantial difference between allowing religious symbols and speech in public places (so long as there is no public money involved) and spending resources to sustain religious entities like churches, mosques and temples. Public religious symbolism expressed in statues, oaths and prayers reflects citizens' desires to see their deeply held beliefs expressed in those public situations where moral commitments are relevant: legislatures, schools and, yes, courthouses and statehouses. Religious proclamations or prayers may open sessions of Congress without costing anyone a dime.

But government money, even when nominally available equally to all, inevitably creates political competition between religious groups over how and where scarce money will be spent. Zero-sum appropriations drive zero-sum politics. A tuition voucher is never priced out of thin air: its amount is set by a political process that favors some schools (for example, Catholic schools that already have infrastructures and support from a centralized church) at the expense of others.

In the courts, the arrangement that I'm proposing would entail abandoning the Lemon requirement that state action must have a secular purpose and secular effects, as well as O'Connor's idea that the state must not ''endorse'' religion. For these two tests, the courts should substitute the two guiding rules that historically lay at the core of our church-state experiment before legal secularism or values evangelicalism came on the scene: the state may neither coerce anyone in matters of religion nor expend its resources so as to support religious institutions and practices, whether generic or particular. These constitutional principles, reduced to their core, can be captured in a simple slogan: no coercion and no money. If no one is being coerced by the government, and if the government is not spending its money to build religious-themed monuments or support religious institutions and practices, the courts should hold that the Constitution is not violated.
The solution I have in mind rests on the basic principle of protecting the liberty of conscience. So long as all citizens have the same right to speak and act free of coercion, no adult should feel threatened or excluded by the symbolic or political speech of others, however much he may disagree with it.
While one may quibble with a few particulars in Feldman's lengthy, thoughtful, and elegant argument, I believe that he has identified the outlines of a dynamic revival of the American compact on Church and State questions. As Glenn Reynolds would say, read the whole thing.

More Fourth of July Reading: The Promise and the Perils of Democracy

Here are links to my three-part series on The Promise and the Perils of Democracy:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Another Fourth of July Read

Two days ago, I posted some links to things I've written in recent years that might be of interest to people on the Fourth of July. Here's one more link you might want to read for the Fourth.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

A Prototype for a Supreme Court Nominee?

Most Americans, polls and common sense tell us, hate the frenzied ideological warfare that many from the Right and the Left appear bent on waging over whoever is nominated by President Bush for confirmation as associate justice on the Supreme Court, replacing the retiring Sandra Day O'Connor.

I'm among their number. That's why I derive some hope from the President's recent nomination of Mike Barrett to a federal judgeship. Barrett's conservative Republican credentials are unquestioned. (He currently serves as chairman of the Hamilton County Republican Party.) But his nomination for a judgeship has also been applauded by Democrats in our area. (Check out this article from today's Cincinnati Enquirer about Barrett and local reaction to his nomination by the President.)

My hope is that Barrett's nomination will be a sort of prototype for what the President will soon do with his nomination of a replacement for Sandra Day O'Connor. Clearly, elections ought to count for something and Presidents have the right to nominate persons to the courts whose philosophies agree with their own. But members of the Senate are elected as well and have their constitutional responsibilities and perquisites, including those associated with scrutinizing nominees for the Court. It would just be nice to see the upcoming confirmation process umarred by the kinds of ugly, unnecessary, and couterproductive exercises in hollow partisan caricature that most Americans hate.

The President may calculate at this point that it would be best for the country, his presidency, and the prospects for future Republican success and influence to nominate someone like Barrett to O'Connor's old job. I'm sure that among those the President is considering appointing, there are people who Republicans can appreciate for philosophical reasons and Democrats can accept because of the candidate's qualifications, integrity, and temperament. Such a candidate would tamp down the fires of ideological warfare over who sits on the Court.

Some might not like that. But almost everybody else would.

(Personally, I'm pulling for the President to nominate Senator Mike DeWine for the Court. This isn't a partisan political judgment: I just think he's a good guy whose conservatism agrees with the President's and whose conduct has won the respect of his colleagues.)

BY THE WAY: Although I am from Ohio, I have never met Senator DeWine. I didn't want anyone to think I was one of those paid-off Bloggers. When asked about his possible interest in the Court recently, DeWine said that he was only interested in re-election to the Senate in 2006, which is about as close to being a done-deal as you'll find in electoral politics. Barring the growing State House scandal involving the Taft Administration splashing back on all Republicans, DeWine is a shoo-in.

Making a Declaration of Dependence

Matthew 11:25-30
(message shared with the people of Friendship Church, July 3, 2005)

"Life's greatest burden," says William Willimon, a Methodist theologian and bishop I respect a lot, "is not having too much to do, but in having nothing worthwhile to do."

Everybody"s busy, it seems. But not many are sure that the things with which they're busy really matter.

I don't know who first said it, but I think it's true: "We're such slaves to the tyranny of the urgent that we neglect to do what's important."

In our Bible lesson, Jesus tells us, "Come to Me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest."

I have always thought that in those words, Jesus was inviting us to cast aside
all the oppressive ways of living,
all the sins,
and all the scurrying we do to prove ourselves to an often bruising and demanding world and instead...
simply accept the acceptance and thrive in the love that comes to those who quit fighting Him and allow Him to wrap His arms of forgiveness, love, and hope around us.

I still think that's what He means.

But, as one should suspect of the rich language used by the big God of all creation--which is Who Jesus is, after all--I've come to believe that's only part of what Jesus is inviting us to do when He says, "Come to Me, and I will give you rest."

There's something more. The hint of what that something more is can be found in the words Jesus speaks after saying, "I will give you rest." He tells us: "Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light."

A yoke, you know, is a wooden bar put on the backs of oxen so that they can do work out in the fields. So far as I know, a yoke is never put on just one ox. Yokes are put on two oxen or a team of them. Jesus says, "Take My yoke upon you."

What's He saying? I think this: "I've got work I'm doing. I'm giving the love and provision of God away to the whole human family, so that all who follow Me will have life forever with God. It's sometimes hard work. It requires self-sacrifice and devotion. I laid down My life for this end. But it's fulfilling work. It's joyful work. And I want you to get in harness and join me in doing it! It'll be the lightest burden you've ever felt because finally, you won't feel that you've got too much to do or that you're doing something foreign to your God-given nature; you'll feel that you're doing exactly what you were made to do. Because you will be!"

In today's Bible lesson, Jesus is inviting us to a new way of living. By turning from sin and the death-bound ways of the world, Jesus empowers us to experience the sense of purpose for which we were made!

He gives us the ability to make the right choices, the ones that honor Him, provide adequately for our families, serve others, and fulfill our desire to be useful as well as busy. That's the yoke that Jesus wants to place on our shoulders.

I believe everyone would love to wear that yoke. Everyone wants to feel that their lives have some purpose, that they're useful to God and others. Do you remember that line in the old Beatles tune, Good Morning?: "Somebody needs to know the time; glad that I'm here." That line was like journaling for John Lennon, who wrote it. Here he was, one of the most successful musicians in the history of the world and somebody asking him the time made him feel that his life was worthwhile.

There is a certain innocent joy that comes to us when we feel that, in however small a way it might be, We're doing God's work for us, loving God and our neighbor.

When I was a kid, like all kids I suppose, I drove my mother nuts whenever she told me to do something. That's because my first response was to ask her, "Why?" Even children don't want to be burdened with doing things that don't matter. But, a child who feels that she or he has something significant to do will amaze us. Last year, we had a rummage sale here at the building. When it came time to load the leavings onto a truck from the Salvation Army, a very pre-Kindergarten member of our congregation worked rings around us, helping. She felt that she had something important to do.

This, I believe, exemplifies what Jesus is talking about in the prayer that opens our Bible lesson today: "I thank You, Father, because you have hidden these things [by things, Jesus means the facts about how life is changed by following Him] from the wise and intelligent [that is, from the people who allow their lives to be strangled by the paralysis of analysis] and have revealed them to infants." The word for infants in the original Greek of the New Testament, means babies incapable even of talking, incapable of fending for themselves. Jesus reveals Himself to those courageous enough to make a declaration of their dependence on Him!

The yoke of lives set free from futility comes to those who stop long enough to simply let Jesus love them...who have had enough of lives lived only for the almighty buck, or the high opinions of others...and who are ready to live with the sense of purpose I saw in that little girl at the end of our rummage sale last year.

They declare their dependence on God and let themselves be harnessed with Jesus in doing His will and His work in the world. When we allow the love and acceptance of God, given to us through Christ, to saturate our lives, we'll choose doing the important over against doing the urgent and even when we're busy, we'll be at peace. Our hearts and our souls will be have true rest.

Last week, Sean stopped by our house to see me. Sean grew up in this congregation and I believe that if it weren't for his work schedule, he'd be here with us on Sunday mornings. At one point in our talk, he mentioned his future father-in-law. A retired airline pilot, he could be sitting back enjoying pino coladas anywhere on the planet. But a few months ago, he began a two-year stint with the Peace Corps in some remote and primitive village in Africa. As Sean described his future father-in-law's experiences there, I couldn't help but think of the Peace Corps motto of a few years back: The toughest job you'll ever love. He seems to be working hard while being totally unencumbered by burdens!

It's possible that you and I can't afford to go off to Africa like that. But I'll tell you something else we can't afford: We can't afford not to heed Jesus' call to take His yoke on our lives, whatever our work, whatever our stations, whatever our ages, because it's only in Jesus that we find rest for our souls, purpose in our living, and hope for our futures.

Now, what is this yoke that Jesus wants us to bear?

Pure and simple, I believe it means submitting to allowing Him to be our God and the One Who saves us from sin, death, and futility.

I think it also means letting His purposes for us become our purposes for us. You know well God's five purposes for us:

making God smile by our total devotion to Him;

loving and participating in the life of God's family, the Church;

actively surrendering to God's work of making us more like Jesus;

serving God by serving His Church;

and sharing the hope that we have through Christ with others.

I believe further that we fulfill these purposes when we adopt those seven habits of joyful people that we talk so much about at Friendship: encouraging others; giving to God's causes in the world; inviting others to know Jesus; praying in order to praise God and ask God's help for others and ourselves; serving others in Jesus' Name; studying God's Word; and regularly joining God's people in worship.

But it all begins when we let Jesus put His yoke on us. Let's pray: "Lord Jesus, give our souls rest. Help us to rest easy in the certainty that when we turn away from the world's standard operating procedures and turn instead to You, we're one with God forever. Help us to willingly take the yoke you place on Your followers and harnessed with You, live for Your purposes, the ones You created just for us. Amen"