Saturday, December 03, 2005

Hoping to Post Tomorrow

Today proved to be far too busy a day for me to post anything more than the little blurb you're reading now on the blog.

This afternoon brought our first-ever Saturday worship at the congregation I serve as pastor, Friendship Lutheran Church. We're calling it GoDeep. In some ways, I suppose, it's a stripped-down worship celebration: one congregational song, some prayers, Bible readings, and a message. But we're also building in a time when people can bring up questions or comments that flow from the theme for the day. Our turnout was sparse. But there were several visitors and all seemed to have a good experience.

After worship, my wife and I went to a local TexMex restaurant to which we'd never gone before, along with a couple from our congregation. It was awesome!

When we got home, we watched Bruce Almighty, which I hadn't seen previously. It raises some really interesting questions...and answers.

Then, in preparation for the December 9 release of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, my son and I finished reading the book together again. (Something we've done several times.) My son said of C.S. Lewis, the book's author, with a wink and a smile, "I guess he's an okay writer." He's at least that!

I hope to post on the blog tomorrow. We'll see.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad!

Today is my parents' fifty-fifth wedding anniversary. I hope you're having a ton of fun, Mom and Dad!

Third Pass at This Week's Bible Lessons: Matthew 1:18-25

First, for the uninitiated, a little background: Mostly for the benefit of the members of the congregation I serve as pastor, I'm posting bits of background on the Bible texts around which our weekend worship is being built. I want to invite people into a consideration of the texts to help us all better prepare for worship.

I usually only focus on one text each week. But the folks at Changing Church, who produce fabulous resources for churches, worship leaders, musicians, and preachers, suggest the use of two texts for this week. Between Second Peter 3:8-15a and Matthew 1:18-25, they've identified a common theme: the surprising ways in which God works even in the midst of our confusion. In the Second Peter text, the first-century post-resurrected churches addressed are confused that the risen Jesus hasn't yet returned to the earth from heaven. In the Matthew text, Joseph is confused by the pregnancy of his betrothed wife, Mary. God's ways can confuse us. But God's track record of faithfulness and love beckons us to trust Him even in confusing times.

In two previous posts (here and here) about these texts, I've given an overview of Second Peter; recommended that for a good general understanding of Matthew, you can check out my still-incomplete blogging series, Getting to Know Jesus One Chapter at a Time; and done a verse-by-verse examination of the Second Peter passage.

Now, I want to look at the Matthean text in some detail, beginning with a few general observations about Matthew's Gospel.

Of the four Gospels in the New Testament, only Luke and Matthew present the story of Jesus' birth. In spite of the frenzied emphasis placed on Christmas in our culture, a good argument can be made that the birth of Jesus isn't that significant from a faith perspective. Of course, He had to be born in order to fulfill His mission of dying and rising to give new life to humanity--a good reason to focus at Christmastime on John 1:1-18 and Philippians 2:4-11, Biblical passages that go to the reason why God became human and came into our world. But Jesus tells His followers to remember His death, not His birth.

Luke and Matthew tell the story of the birth from different perspectives. Luke sees it through the experience of Mary, the young virgin chosen by God to give birth to the Savior of the world. It's in Luke's telling of the Christmas story that the angel Gabriel announces her pregnancy to Mary; that she responds with the eloquent Magnificat, rooted in the song of Hannah, a once-barren woman whose prayers for a child were answered when she learned that she would give birth to Samuel (First Samuel 2:1-10); and that Mary travels to be with her relative, Elizabeth--a woman who, like Hannah, Sarah, and Rachel suffered long years of barrenness--when she gives birth to John the Baptist.

Matthew, by contrast, tells the story through the prism of Joseph's experience. Joseph is described by Matthew as righteous. One commentary, that by W.F. Albright and C.S. Mann, points out: "Contemporary usage in Josephus shows that the Greek [of dikaios, righteous] means 'one obedient to the commands of God, an upright man, man of character.'"

Like his Old Testament namesake, Joseph is a man who receives dreams, one of which occurs in our text. Viewing his dreams as directives from God, Joseph obediently protects the child to whom Mary is to give birth, although they have no marital relations until after Jesus' birth.

Luke and Matthew give us two important sides to the story of Jesus' birth, allowing us to see both the wrestling and the faithfulness of two people called to play significant roles in God's plans for the human race.

Now onto the specific verses of the text...

v. 18: This verse succinctly lays out the scandal and the miracle of Mary's situation.

Betrothal was a far more significant relational status than today's engagements. Albright and Mann point out that "the penalty for fornication with one person while betrothed to another was death for both guilty parties" (Deuteronomy 21:13ff). They also point out that verse 19's use of the term husband for Joseph underscores the seriousness of betrothal.

The Holy Spirit has always been the creative Force of the Three-in-One God. He was the One Who bore upon the waters of primordial chaos to create the world (Genesis 1:2).

v. 19: Joseph planned to do the right thing, but with no humiliation of Mary. The law provided that a man in Joseph's position could divorce his betrothed wife (Deuteronomy 22:13ff). But this was usually done in a public way. Joseph decided to divorce Mary "quietly," in what is speculated would have been a private ceremony involving as few as two witnesses.

The Second Peter text for this week says that on Jesus' return, all our misdeeds will be publicly exposed (Second Peter 3:10). But Joseph intends to do nothing to expose Mary's supposed misdeed, which will inevitably be revealed in any case. There's a lesson to be learned from the pairing of these two passages: It's God's job to show people's wrongs to others, not ours!

Joseph was determined that he should do the right thing. But he had no interest in doing so at the expense of Mary. This is so different from the way we usually operate. We seem to relish showing others to be wrong and ourselves right. We love to tell "hero stories" about ourselves, preferably with some morally deficient person as the foil.

v. 20: Albright and Mann point out, "Only a direct revelation, here in a dream, will indicate what is the hidden purpose of God." Dreams, most notably those given to Joseph, named for the Old Testament figure revered for his dreams, play a prominent role in revealing God's will in Matthew's Gospel.

We may disdain the notion that such things happen. But for a good modern examination of dreams as revelations of God's will, see Morton Kelsey's book, called Dreams.

Of course, Christians believe that the ultimate arbiter of God's will is His Word, the Bible. If our dreams, hunches, passions, or obsessions do not conform with God's revealed will in the Bible, we can bet that they are not from God!

Marriage, again according to Albright and Mann, had two parts: "the betrothal and the taking of the bride to the bridegroom's house...the beginning and the ending, of the legal process of marriage."

I find it interesting that the angel tells Joseph not to be afraid of taking Mary as his wife. Afraid of what? Several possibilities suggest themselves: fear of taking a wife who would not be faithful to him; fear of public humiliation; fear of general public opinion. Whatever the source of Joseph's fear, the messenger from God tells him to ignore it.

v. 21: Jesus' "office" is clearly revealed to Joseph. Roughly, Jesus' Name means, God saves.

v. 22: Matthew takes great pains throughout his Gospel to show us the ways in which Jesus' life, death, and resurrection represent the fulfillment of Old Testament Scripture.

v. 23: Emmanuel, meaning God with us, points out the incarnational element of Jesus' identity. To be incarnated is to be enfleshed or embodied. Jesus was the living embodiment of eternal God. This is why the words He gives for Holy Communion are so significant, "This is My body, given for you."

Albright and Mann point out that the very sense of the term meaning God with us "is of God's active vindication of His people (cf. Psalm 46:7, 11)." In other words, the advent--the coming--of Jesus vindicates the trusting faith of generations of God's people, Israel, that He would send a Messiah Who would set all to right for those who follow Him!

v. 24: Among the many "miracles" of Jesus' birth, I think, is the obedience of both Mary and Joseph. It isn't that they don't doubt. We see their doubts expressed in both the Matthean and Lucan accounts of the birth. But they both act on their faith, offering obedient service to God in spite of their doubts and wondering. Joseph must have felt that he could and should obey the message from God because it was consistent with what he knew about God from the Hebrew Scriptures, what we now call the Old Testament.

v. 25: This passage indicates that while Mary was a virgin when Jesus was conceived in her womb, after the birth of the child, she and Joseph had normal marital relations.

What always amazes me about Matthew's telling of the story of Jesus' birth is how matter-of-fact he is about it. There is no overwrought rhetoric, no polemic against doubting Thomases, no pyrotechnics. He simply tells the story, something which must surely tell skeptics--like I once was--that there is the smell of truth to it.

UPDATE: You may also want to check out the take of Lutheran pastor Brian Stoffregen on this passage here.

Bush Will Serve on Jury in 2006

George W. Bush has cited scheduling conflicts for not doing jury duty in Waco, Texas at this time. Given his current gig, that's understandable. But he apparently will serve on a jury early next year. The White House has said the President considers service on a jury, when called up, to be a civic duty.

Senator John Kerry apparently agrees. I read recently that Kerry received kudos from his fellow jurors after they'd selected him to serve as foreperson for a Massachusetts trial.

I once served on a grand jury and found it a thoroughly enjoyable and interesting experience. And when you consider it, serving on a jury when called is more than a duty. It's a privilege. For ordinary citizens to serve in this way exemplifies our commitment to government "of the people, by the people, for the people."

One of the best tributes to the American jury system remains Twelve Angry Men. (But where were the women?)

Save Your Pennies: Cohen Compiling Book

In celebration of his "blogoversary," writer Richard Lawrence Cohen is compiling the best works of short fiction written for his site into a book. Save your pennies. This will be a good one to have: Richard's thought-provoking, often touching pieces really demand to be read in the less hurried ways we use with books.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Leadership Lesson #5: The Hardest Thing for Me To Do As a Leader

Several weeks ago, I sent a rather lengthy email to the lay leaders of the congregation where I serve as pastor, Friendship Lutheran Church. It was my frank assessment of where we stand as a church, what I think God may be calling us to do and be, and an analysis of my own strengths and deficiencies as a leader.

"While tales of my asking people to undertake ministries are told a lot at Friendship," I said at one point, "the fact is that I have asked too little of people. In conveying the grace of God, my reticence about asking things of people authenticates the Gospel. It conveys the giftedness of a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. It disarms people fearful that the Church just wants to use people up or take their money.

"But I fail to sufficiently challenge people, individually or collectively, once they've stayed with us."

The hardest thing for me to do as a leader has always been to ask others for their help.

For much of my career as a leader, I think I assumed that if people were happy with our church and with me, they would simply pitch in on all the things that need to happen for organizations of any kind to thrive and grow. Whether the people we seek to lead are volunteers or paid subordinates, assuming that people will "get the hint" and pitch in can be fatal to the success of your organization. Mark it down: Nobody wants to be part of an organization that fails to challenge us, that fails to ask our commitment and sacrifice, or that seems to place so little value on people that it doesn't call out the best in them.

My observation is that there are three main reasons that leaders fail to ask for help:
  • Some leaders, as I mentioned in the previous post of this series, feeling that they have insufficient time to train people for the tasks they want them to do forget about recruitment and keep doing things themselves that might best be delegated. By doing this, they bog themselves down and fail to do the most important thing any leader must do: multiply themselves.
  • Some leaders are simply too proud to ask for help. Generally, leaders are competent and self-sufficient people. That can create a hubris that also prevents them from doing the work of multiplication.
  • And some leaders suffer from being pleasers, nice folks who play to the crowd. These leaders say things like, "I don't want to be a bother."
If leaders exhibiting any of these impulses allow them to become central to their operating styles, they're hurting their organizations.

Leaders in churches, one might think, should be less susceptible to adopting these counterproductive leadership styles. After all, the God we know in Jesus Christ has freed us from the delusion of self-sufficiency and from the sickness of co-dependency. Christ calls us to rely for power and guidance on Him, to dare to ask for God's help, and to live in relationships of mutuality, where the sharing and bearing of burdens with others is to happen.

But, of course, Christians are human beings, too. As are Christian leaders, whether they're lay leaders or clergy. I know, because I tend toward the third impulse sited above.

So, simple advice for leaders, no matter what your context:
  • Ask. Ask the people you lead for deeper levels of commitment. (People want to be involved in a cause or task that's bigger than themselves.)
  • Ask. Ask for the help you need. (Don't be afraid to be vulnerable. In the long run, people will respect you more for it.)
  • Ask. Egotists aren't leaders. Period.
  • Ask. Ask for specific help. (I've discovered that most people aren't mind-readers.)
  • Ask. Ask personally. Generic blast "asks" can act as a back-up to interpersonal efforts, but they don't replace asking people either face-to-face or on the telephone.
  • Ask. Above all, ask God for help. I even ask God to help me to ask others for help and to cause them to say, "Yes" to the things I ask them to do. As the English archbishop once observed, answers to prayer might be dismissed as coincidences by skeptics; but the more I pray, the more coincidences happen.
[Next installment: The Indispensable Habit of Effective Leaders]

[Here are links to the previous installments:
The First Thing Every True Leader Must Be
The Most Overrated Attribute of Leaders
The First Thing Every Leader Must Do
The Inefficiency Every Leader Must Embrace to Be Successful]

Pajamas Media: Changing the Subject

One of the classic ploys of regimes not doing well is to change the subject by picking a fight with some foreign enemy, inciting the homies to redirect the anger that would otherwise be aimed at them at somebody else.

Pajamas Media, which has incurred the wrath and ridicule of the blogging world for its profligacy, lack of focus, and crude attempt to control blogging, has a new series, complete with promotional ads on such sites as Instapundit. "Should the United Nations Control the Internet?" the advertisement I see on Glenn Reynolds' site asks.

This is classic misdirection. "We're not the villains," the PJM/OSM/PJM crew is telling us, "It's that bad old United Nations. You know how most of you bloggers hate that outfit. Look, here's a picture of Kofi Annan to remind you."

Yes, there will be those continuing to press for United Nations control of the Internet. But this is hardly a hot topic now. A vote against ceding US control of the web to the UN happened just last week.

Please, Pajamas folks, figure out what you're doing or better yet, just admit that you had no idea what your whole enterprise was about in the first place--other than awkwardly trying to control people's access to blogs and to create a blogging elite--and close up shop.

From where I sit, a far more urgent question to ask is, "Should Pajamas Take Control of the Blogosphere?" Because that appears to be what they want to do. Happily, their lack of clarity about how to go about doing that has thus far thwarted them.


Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Second Pass at This Week's Bible Lessons: Second Peter 3:8-15a

I've decided to use both this text from Second Peter and the Gospel lesson appointed for the Second Sunday in Advent this year, Matthew 1:18-25, as the basis for our worship and the message on December 4. There are good reasons for this, which I probably will get into in a post tomorrow.

In this post, I'm going to do a verse-by-verse survey of Second Peter 3:8-15a. This will reflect both my own observations and what I've read so far on the text.

v. 8: First, the writer asserts that God's reckoning of time is different from our own. This would have been an important and reassuring fact for the letter's original addressees. As you'll recall from my discussion here, the first recipients of the letter were troubled by what's called the delayed parousia, the seeming slowness the risen Jesus was taking about returning to the earth. The common assumption of Jesus' earliest followers was that He would return in their lifetimes.

Peter's reminder echoes Psalm 90:4:
For a thousand years in Your sight are like yesterday when it is past, or like a watch in the night.
Another Old Testament passage lurking in the background of verse 8 (and verse 9) is probably Isaiah 30:18:
Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you; therefore He will rise up to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all who wait for Him.
In other words, God's seeming delays can be seen as acts of mercy, a point underscored in the next verse.

This verse seems to begin a new segment of Second Peter's argument against false teachers. Back in verse 5, the writer accuses these teachers of "deliberately" ignoring the word of God. Here, the false teachers are accused of ignoring God's frame of reference regarding time (and how it might be used for our good) being different from our own.

v. 9: Christ isn't being slow about His return, only patiently affording people the opportunity to turn from sin (repent) and have a saving relationship with Him.

Scholars point out that similar statements about God's patience and His desire for relationships with us can be found in Joel 2:12-14; Jonah 4:2; Romans 2:4; 13:11; First Timothy 2:4; and Revelation 2:21.

v. 10: This passage employs the very description used by Jesus of how His return will seem for the world, like the intrusion of a thief, as found in Matthew 24:43-44 and Luke 12:39-40. Also see First Thessalonians 5:2; Revelation 3:3; 16:15.

The verse also says that everything that we have done on this planet will be revealed. We would all be crushed by the shame of our deeds and thoughts were it not for the fact that through Jesus Christ, we are saved from death, the consequence of our sins, as an act of charity (grace) on God's part.

v.11: Since the world is to be dissolved, the writer rhetorically asks, how are we to live each day? We're to live lives of "holiness and godliness."

To be "holy" is to be set apart, special, even weird, different, against the grain, subversive. The values of people who have surrendered to Jesus Christ are meant to be different. Some of what that means:
  • Putting the interests of God and others ahead of our own;
  • Being secure enough in who we are as children of God that we don't need to prove ourselves;
  • Being secure enough in who we are as children of God that we're freed to be unique, some would say, iconoclastic;
  • Fighting for just treatment of everybody, even people society deems marginal or unpopular, especially the poor.
To be godly means to attempt to conform our lives to the expectations, calls, and commandments of the God Who made us. We do this not to earn God's love and forgiveness. None of us is capable of being good enough to earn God's approval.

We do it in grateful response to the approval with which God has already blanketed the human race through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We can refuse this approval by spurning the God we know in Jesus. (Check out John 3:16-18) But it's available to all.

To lead godly and holy lives doesn't mean that we're perfect. And it most emphatically does not mean being judgmental or legalistic; Jesus repeatedly condemned such pseudo-holiness. It means to joyfully and humbly accept the grace of God and to ask God to help us live lives that display that gratitude through love for Him and love for others. It means to grow in our confident dependence on Christ and His capacity to refashion us into the people God has made us to be and who we want to be.

v. 12: The word sometimes translated as hastening would be better rendered earnestly desiring.

This is especially the case because in some sick interpretations of Christian belief, there is a notion that human beings can force Christ to return to the world sooner, as though God isn't sovereign or act on His own timetable.

Christians await Christ's return with longing, just as in Old Testament times God's people longed for things like their own land, the end of their exile, and the coming of the Messiah.

v. 13: To me, this passage contains an awesome promise, which John Eldredge addresses beautifully in his fantastic book, The Journey of Desire. Like Eldredge, I hate the thought of losing things like the Grand Canyon, the plains of Kansas, the Great Lakes, the foothills of the Appalachians in eastern Ohio, the mountains of Colorado, Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, and so on. Earth has been my God-given home and God created it good, even though it and all of creation now groans under the weight of human sin. (Romans 8)

What the writer seems to suggest here is that just as God is making a new creation of people who turn from Him and we will be resurrected in forms recognizable to others on the day of Christ's return, God is also intent to make "new heavens and a new earth." So, while the earth we know will be destroyed, we will live on a new earth, the perfect, whole, and wholesome place it was when God first created it and before humanity despoiled it. C.S. Lewis portrays how this might be in the singlemost sublime and beautiful piece of fiction I have ever read, The Last Battle, the final volume in The Chronicles of Narnia.

v.14: I find it interesting first, that the writer exhorts his first co-respondents, to "strive to be found at him at peace." I find several implications here:
  • Christ so values love among us that He wants us to make every effort to remove acrimony or relational discord. This is certainly to be true among Christian believers. But other passages indicate that we are also to strive for peace with all people. That would, after all, seem to be among the points of the Great Commandment, with its call on believers to love God and love neighbor.
  • Strive is a word often associated with personal ambition or with conflict. But here, the word is used of a different kind of struggle. We're to militate against our selfish impulses and to work to establish ties of love toward others. Love, as the Bible understands it, is not primarily an emotion. It has an in spite of quality. Love's unspoken attitude is, "I will accept and work for your good even sometimes in spite of how I may feel about you."
How does one strive for peace in this way? By inviting Christ into our every moment.

"Without spot or blemish" is the very term used in the New Testament of Jesus as the perfect sacrificial lamb. Be like Christ? Yes, of course. Become Christ or morally perfect? Impossible this side of the grave. What the phrase points to--again--is our need to allow Christ access to our minds and wills so that His perfect love begins to take hold of us. Think of the surprised "sheep" in Jesus' parable of the day He returns to judge the world. The sheep are surprised because they can't remember the good things they have done which Jesus so extols. And why is that? They did these deeds not to earns spiritual merit badges. They did them as people who have allowed Christ access to their lives and so, with Christ in the interior of their souls, almost subconsciously live as "little Christs" to the world around them.

v.15a (ending with the word salvation): In a sense, Peter is saying, "Focus on being Christ's people now and take His seeming delay as yet another sign of how gracious and willing to give second and third chances Christ is."

The Love of Money and Litigiousness

Deborah White, an interesting blogger (see here, here, and here) and a wonderful person, left these comments on my post about why Americans are so litigious:
It's about the love of money. Period.

Nothing in this life has surprised me more than the extreme lengths some people will go to obtain more money; how some people evaluate others on the basis of how much money and material goods they possess; and how some people literally use money as a scorecard of success.

Like all middle-aged Americans, I have seen people destroy families, friendships, marriages and their own health over money.

That's the main reason for the vast majority of lawsuits: the pursuit of money and/or goods.
I thought that this was insightful and responded:
Yes, I think that perhaps all these other things I mentioned in the oroginal post aid and abet the major culprit: the love of money. And that, of course, is a deeply spiritual problem. Money is the deity of choice of most people. To correctly quote a New Testament passage usually inaccurately cited: "For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains." [First Timothy 6:10]
Often the passage in Timothy is misquoted, as in the Pink Floyd song, Money. There and elsewhere, people claim that this passage of Scripture, written by the apostle Paul to a young preacher condemned money as "the root of all evil."

I suppose that the reason some people misquote the passage is that it creates a straw man readily knocked down, making it easier to ignore the claims of God on our lives.

Money, as Richard Foster points out in his fantastic book, Money, Sex, and Power, is morally neutral. It's neither bad or good. But the love of money turns it into an idol we serve, something we use, as Deb points out, to measure our value and our success as people. Like all addictive forces, money, once it has become our drug of choice (i.e., our idol) can turn us into monsters.

We see a lot of monstrous behavior in our world resulting from the love of money. As Deborah points out, that no doubt includes the surfeit of law suits in the United States.

Can You See Pain in Works of Art?

Art Muses, a great blog I've recently discovered, has an interesting item about a Forbes magazine article by a pathologist who "believes illness due to various causes can be seen in the art work of such great artist as Michelangelo, Raphael and Vincent Van Gogh."

I left this comment:
Whether one can actually see pain in works of art or not, I do think that the experience of pain often causes people to turn to art and that it may actually enhance the work of artists.

This is true not only of visual artists. I think of how C.S. Lewis, John Lennon, and Paul McCartney, for example, all had to deal with the deaths of their mothers when they were either children or pre-teens. My feeling is that pain such as this makes artistic expression attractive: It gives the artist some sense of control, some dominion of their own creation, in a world that is very much out of our control. They can imagine a different world. Or, in bitterness, they can portray the world they see around them in vivid, imaginative ways.
Does that seem true to you?

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Please Pray for Darfur

The killing and displacement of innocent civilians continues there. Meanwhile, a new round of peace talks has begun and Pope Benedict XVI has promised to do all he can to ensure peace there. Ask God to give success to efforts at peace for the suffering people of Sudan.

And don't forget to pray for innocent people who suffer in other places around the globe, asking God to open the hearts of the violent and to send Christ and His good counsel to them.

Why Are We So Litigious?

Why do we Americans sue each other so much?

That question came to the fore tangentially in a comments discussion on Ann Althouse's site this morning.

It's become cliche to refer to America as a litigious society and for good reason: It's true.

There are any number of reasons for this:
  • The United States has far more lawyers per capita than any other country in the world. Those people have got to find something to do.
  • And because those who sue others incur no loss if their suit is tossed out or they lose (other than the money spent on hefty legal fees), the incentives to sue, for both lawyers and complainants, are usually too powerful to resist.
  • And, we have increasingly become what I call a "rights oriented" culture.
In the early years of the Republic, for example, the defining document of America's national identity was not the Declaration of Independence, but the Constitution. The Constitution, with its emphasis on the social compact of "we the people" was and is a more communal document--in spite of its tragic countenancing of slavery--than the Declaration of Independence. The Constitution, in its original form is more interested in our mutual responsibilities than the Declaration, which is more interested in individual rights.

Of course, both of these elements--mutual responsibility and individual rights--are part of the American tradition. The brilliance of Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address is that the President who initially insisted that the war was only about maintaining national unity--in other words, about mutual responsibility--finally came to portray it as also being a struggle for individual rights, namely those of the slaves and of all who wanted to live free. Lincoln saw the need to work both great themes of American history.

But our national life veers off course when we tilt too far in one direction or the other.

The tilt toward obsessions with individual rights has been quite pronounced in recent decades. There are several reasons for this, I think:
  • One is the Civil Rights movement. The movement is, of course, a bright spot in US history. But nations are as prone to "fighting the last war" as generals. The struggle for rights has become one of the prevailing motifs of our politics and culture, even when dealing with issues where such questions are tangential at best. This only encourages the very human impulse to "look out for number one" and "to shaft before you get shafted."
  • Another factor is our access to technology. Through technology, middle class Americans are capable of doing more than ever before. That's good. But technology also can, and often does, make us more insular, seemingly more self-sufficient--though this is clearly a delusion, and less communal. We have become less practiced at dealing with others.
  • Another factor is the emergence of gigantic corporations with few ties to communities or nations. They are so driven by the bottom line that they often are contemptuous of consumers, rights, or governments. Some of these impersonal behemoths seem almost constitutionally incapable of benign behavior or of admitting their deficiencies. They make the "little guy" feel very little indeed. David is thus incentivized to find some rocks to cast Goliath's way.
  • Another reason is our society's almost pathological refusal to accept personal responsibility. This means that hordes of people who may or may not have a beef bring suits.
The popularization and perversion of Freudian psychology has a role here. There's a scene in the movie, Spanglish in which Tia Leone's character, Deborah, sits with her mother, played by Cloris Leachman, on the night Deborah may have wrecked her marriage through her extramarital affair. There is something, Deborah earnestly tells her mother, that she must say. "You are an alcoholic and were a wildly promiscuous woman when I was young and it's because of you that I'm in this situation now," she says.

I laugh every time I watch that scene. For a grown woman to blame her actions on the bad example of her mother is, when you think about it, patently absurd. There ought to be a statute of limitations on how much we can blame our parents for what we do.

Yet, we live in a culture where it's perfectly acceptable to blame everybody else for the troubles we bring on to ourselves. Get burned by coffee just out of the pot? Sue the restaurant. Get overweight from too many fat-burgers? Hey, it's not your fault.

In the end, I feel that our litigious society is one manifestation of a profound spiritual crisis in America. In spite of our religiosity, we're not in touch with some fundamental elements of the Judeo-Christian heritage:
  • Our highest calling is to love God and love neighbor. In the New Testament, the apostle Paul says that we should allow ourselves to think and live more like Jesus, "Who, though He was in the form of God did not count equality with God a thing to be exploited." Instead, Paul said, we should think of others' interests ahead of our own. That's countercultural!
  • We're called to make a fearless inventory of ourselves. In Psalm 139, the writer asks God to "search me, Father, and know my ways." And it further invites God to show him whatever is displeasing to God in his life so that he can turn away from the sin (repent) and receive forgiveness and the power to do better.
This motif of repentance and renewal, of turning from sin and receiving forgiveness and the presence of God's Spirit in one's life for living rightly, is seen from page 1 of Genesis to the last page of Revelation. A gracious God wants to help us to live life optimally.
  • When we do have disputes with others, the New Testament emphasizes making every attempt to resolve them quickly. "Be angry, but do not sin," the apostle Paul writes. We're not to be doormats. But we are to attempt to resolve issues.
Some lawsuits are both inevitable and necessary, of course.

But I honestly believe that if there were a spiritual awakening in America, we would be less litigious.

I'm not talking about adopting the agendas of religionists of the Right or the Left. Often, it seems to me, they're only interested in imposing their own versions of Christianity on the rest of us through the law.

By spiritual awakening, I'm talking about communities and individuals daring to surrender to Jesus Christ, allowing Him access to their wills, minds, and souls. I'm talking about allowing Jesus Christ to unleash His Spirit within us so that we become part of His new creation (Second Corinthians 5:17).

Nobody perfectly reflects Jesus Christ in their life, of course. There are, as the saying goes, only two kinds of people: forgiven sinners and unforgiven sinners.

Perhaps if more of us could make the healthy admission that we are sinners, as prone to wrong as others, and if we could ask Christ to bring forgiveness to us, we would be far less critical of others, far less inclined to shaft our neighbors, far more prone to taking personal responsibility, and so, far less likely as a society to play that game George Harrison once called "the sue me, sue you blues."

Monday, November 28, 2005

'Duke' Cunningham and Second Acts

F. Scott Fitzgerald, whose life fell apart and imploded at an early age, once remarked, "There are no second acts in American lives."

I'm not so sure that's true.

Martha Stewart goes to prison and comes out with a network TV show, albeit short-lived.

G. Gordon Liddy breaks into the Watergate and gets a radio show.

Bill Clinton is impeached and goes on to have a special role at the United Nations.

Americans love second acts. They dig redemption. Especially when the person who has done wrong owns up to their wrong.

California Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham has resigned from his seat today. This comes after his plea of guilty to taking more than $2-million in bribes. I was struck by this from one account:
After entering his plea in San Diego, California, the eight-term California Republican said he was "deeply sorry."

"The truth is I broke the law, concealed my conduct and disgraced my office," he told reporters, his voice strained with emotion. "I know I will forfeit my reputation, my worldly possessions -- most importantly the trust of my friends and family."

Asked by U.S. District Judge Larry Burns if he had accepted cash and gifts and then tried to influence the Defense Department on behalf of the donors, Cunningham said, "Yes, your honor."
None of this is to justify the crimes to which Cunningham has admitted. He took bribes. He sold his services to corporate entities, rather than serving the nation he was elected to serve. And while his felonies will prevent him from ever again holding public office, Americans are willing to forgive people, giving them second acts. That's one of our country's most endearing qualities.

Cunningham is unlikely to incur the wrath of the late-night firing squads of Leno, Letterman, Maher, or Stewart. It's hard to lampoon someone who so willingly takes his lumps.

Leadership Lesson #4: The Inefficiency Every Leader Must Embrace to Be Successful

Tammy was one of the PTA's most reliable volunteers. So, it was only natural that by the time her oldest child reached the fifth grade, she was unanimously elected Maplecrest School PTA president.

Tammy took the job seriously. She had an ambitious plan for the PTA's program that school year. In September, at the Fall Open House, she made a major pitch for volunteers. An amazing fifty people signed volunteer cards that night!

"I can hardly believe it!" Maplecrest's principal told Tammy. "I've never seen such a great response in thirty years in Education. You're off to a great start!"

Tammy was off to a great start. Unfortunately, things sort of fell apart after that. Tammy blamed the volunteers who didn't follow through on their commitments. While that was the reason some of the volunteers didn't show up when tasks needed doing, the other reason was Tammy herself.

You see, early in the year, when volunteers showed up to perform tasks she could perform blindfolded, Tammy felt as though she spent hours showing others how to do them. "In the time it takes me to get everybody else trained," she told her husband, "I could have the job done three times over. Besides, I kind of like doing some of the jobs myself. They're therapeutic for me." In time, Tammy stopped calling volunteers or accepting their help altogether. The PTA became a one-person show.

Tammy discovered what every person in a leadership position learns: Sometimes, it's easier to do things yourself.

But here's the second thing Tammy never learned (which is why her year as PTA president is remembered as such a disaster): Even if a leader can do every task better than those they are called to lead and even if training others takes longer than it would take the leader to do the task, the leader must resist doing it themselves.

Leaders must accept the temporary inefficiency represented by seemingly lost time spent training others in order to insure the long-term health of their organizations.

This has been one of the most difficult lessons for me to learn as a leader. (And some days I almost remember it!)

Many, if not most tasks that leaders might assign others to do will be ones that they can perform better and more quickly. But unless the leader takes the time to train others, the leader won't be freed to do other things, things that will help their organization thrive and grow.

In volunteer organizations, like PTAs, youth service agencies, and churches, taking the time to train others to do things expands the base of ownership in the mission of the organization and it increases the overall capacity of the organization to fulfill its mission. People feel more a part of things when leaders trust them to do things...even to be slow or to make mistakes!

I once heard leadership guru John Maxwell say that leaders multiply their organizations by initiating a simple three-step training process. First: They allow others to watch them do the task at hand. Second: They watch while others do the same task and later, offer them feedback. Third: They hand the task off to the folks they've trained along with the mandate of undertaking the same process with another person.

When you think about it, this is simply a variation on the process that was used by Jesus with the unlikely crew He recruited to carry on His work following His death and resurrection. First: They traveled with Him for several years, observing Him as He taught and served others. Second: He sent them out in groups of two to replicate His ministry, the partners able to provide feedback and support to one another. Third: They came back and Jesus took them away on retreat to reflect on their experiences. Just before the risen Jesus ascended to heaven, He told the remnants of this group to keep this three-point program going. "While you're moving through the world," He told them, "make disciples." (Of course, Jesus-Followers have the added benefit of knowing that their efforts, even if imbued with little native talent, are maximized by the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit working in their lives!)

Training others to do what you know you can already do better will take time. But it is the inefficiency you must accept in order for your organization to succeed.

[Next installment: The Hardest Thing for Me to Do As a Leader]

[Previous installments in this series:
The First Thing Every True Leader Must Be
The Most Overrated Attribute of Leaders
The First Thing Every Leader Must Do]

First Pass at This Sunday's Potential Bible Lessons: 2 Peter 3:8-15a and Matthew 1:18-25

Our congregation subscribes to what's known as The Toolkit from Changing Church, a ministry of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Burnsville, Minnesota. It provides worship resources built around themes usually suggested by the historic lectionaries (Bible lesson plans) of the Church.

While I would be loathe to ever swipe sermons from others--for one thing, I too enjoy the process of sermon preparation--I'm always ripe for finding good ideas! (I once heard pastor, author, and leadership guru Norm Shawchuck give this good advice: "Thou shalt steal good ideas!") The Toolkit is often chock-full of stealable ideas.

Lectionaries--Methodists, Episcopalians, Lutherans, and Roman Catholics all seem to have slightly varying versions of these Bible lesson regimens--usually appoint what amounts to a total of four lessons for each Sunday and festival of the Church Year. Generally speaking, these lessons include an Old Testament reading, a Psalm, a reading from one of the New Testament books other than the Gospels, and a lesson from one of the Gospel books: Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. (There are three different lectionary years, referred to as Years A, B, and C.)

A number of years ago, I decided to build the worship services at our congregation around a theme each week. That immediately suggested using one Biblical passage as the foundation for the entire worship celebration on any given day, thus "de-cluttering" things and heightening the impact of the theme each day.

Usually, I use one of the lessons appointed by the lectionary, but often I break free from what one of our former Lutheran bishops, David Preus, called "the tyranny of the lectionary" to address issues that I've chosen for special attention. So, a few years ago, I did a series of messages on Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. I've also done series of messages on marriage and family life, stress, spiritual gifts, spiritual disciplines, the themes of the Forty Days of Purpose, and so on.

This week, the Toolkit suggests building worship around two Biblical texts: Second Peter 3:8-15a and Matthew 1:18-25. I've not yet decided whether I'll preach on the Peter text, the Matthew text, or both. I spent several hours today studying and weighing the alternatives.

For now, I thought I'd share a bit about each of the books from which the lessons are drawn and then, briefly, the connections I can see between the two specific texts.

Much of what I'm going to present here about Second Peter comes from The Interpreter's Bible.

Second Peter:
Most Biblical scholars seem convinced that this book wasn't actually written by the apostle Peter, even though the letter itself identifies it as his handiwork. There are several reasons they believe this:

First, the issue which prompted this letter--what the scholars call the delayed parousia--is something that would have likely arisen only after the first generation of Jesus-Followers had died, indicating that the earliest possible date it could have been written was about 80 to 90 A.D. (More on this in a moment. So, please be patient with me.)

Second, the vocabulary and the theological terms used here are very unlike First Peter, a letter that most believe was written by Peter himself. The author of this letter seems steeped in an extensive knowledge of Greek cultural practices as well as the practices of Jews and Christians. The vocabulary are those of a Hellenized Jew, these scholars assert, and not those of a Galileean fisherman.

Third, it was perfectly acceptable for the student or follower of a great teacher, to write in the name of and under the authority of that teacher. Second Peter is usually thought to have been written in Rome, where the apostle Peter is thought to have gone and recruited what some scholars call a "Petrine School," a group of students (another word for them would be disciples) who later carried on his work and his particular slant on the Gospel. (By the way, for an interesting look at the varied schools of thought within early Christianity, you might want to read Raymond Brown's The Churches the Apostles Left Behind.)

Of course, this all may be rot. There's no reason to suppose that concern for the delayed parousia didn't arise earlier. (I promise I'll explain this in a moment.) Nor is there any reason to suppose that Peter, like any person who is alive, especially alive in Christ, couldn't grow in his knowledge and for the sake of sharing Christ with many people, in his appreciation of various cultural expressions.

But there is no dispute over what Second Peter is about. Whether Peter or one of his students, the author is warning the letter's original recipients in churches that spread from Antioch to Bithynia, to ignore the proclamations of certain "false teachers."

These false teachers taught that when the Old Testament taught and when Jesus was quoted as having taught about a parousia, they weren't rightly representing the inspired truth from God. Parousia is the term in the original Greek of the New Testament for the day that the risen Jesus' returns to the world. (You see, I promised I'd explain that term!)

Because many people had expected Jesus to return within the lifetimes of the first generation of Christians and so many of that generation had died off, the false teachers Second Peter excoriates were now telling Christians that the notion of Jesus' return was inaccurate.

As we've seen in the Biblical texts over the past few weeks, because of the early Church's belief that Jesus was going to return, Christians were encouraged to be awake, attentive to Jesus' call to love God and love neighbor. In other words, belief in the parousia had practical, ethical implications for Christians in their everyday lives. Whenever Jesus returned, they wanted to be about His business.

But what if, as the false teachers asserted, Jesus wasn't coming back?

These false teachers had an answer for that, too. Like the Epicurean philosophers, these teachers believed in one universal Deity. But they effectively believed that He didn't care how we live our lives. They also seemed to believe that this God wouldn't become entangled with us.

This teaching is at odds with Christian belief. The apostles, Jesus' first followers, taught that:

  • Jesus was God in the flesh, come to earth because of God's passionate concern about our lives.
  • Because God values all human beings, God values how we treat one another and our own minds and bodies. We're called to love God and love neighbor. In other words, God cares about ethics and morals.
  • All who turn from sin and seek forgiveness through Jesus Christ are saved.
  • These same believers are given the power of the Holy Spirit to move toward greater holiness or Christlikeness as they follow Jesus.
  • Jesus is coming back to the world to judge the living and the dead. All who have trusted in Him and seen the power of sin and death lifted from their lives will live with Him forever.
  • After the judgment, Jesus will establish the new heavens and a new earth under His loving Lordship.
These false teachers were advocates of what is called antinomianism, lawlessness. God's law, as embodied in the Ten Commandments and as summarized in Jesus' Great Commandment (love God, love neighbor), isn't meant to be a strait-jacket. God's commands are, in Bill Hybels' memorable characterization, laws that liberate. God's law establishes the perameters within which life is at its best for His children. (Having tried to live both within and outside of God's law, I can say that it's more difficult to live within them, but it's also better.)

None of us will ever perfectly succeed at keeping God's law. Sin and the impulse to sin still lives inside every one of us, from birth.

But, as indicated above, when we surrender to Jesus Christ, God helps us to will what God wills. He calls us to lives of what Martin Luther called "daily repentance and renewal" in which we expose more and more of our lives to the transforming power of God's Holy Spirit. More and more, we see God's law as the way of life to which we aspire.

That means that Christ's return holds no dread for Christians, even though we believe that it will happen.

We know that while we are sinners, we're sinners covered by the forgiveness of Jesus Christ. We depend on Him. The teachings of those Second Peter warns us against urges us to give up on God and His promises and to depend on ourselves. That course leads back to the same old trap from which Jesus Christ came to save us.

Second Peter tells us that our lives matter and that as we live each day in vital connection with Christ, we will be prepared for the day when Jesus most assuredly will return.

I won't write anything on Matthew now because I've preached a good deal on texts from him book in recent weeks, all of which have appeared here, and I wrote a summary of the emphases of each of the four Gospels on this site last week. (To read more on Matthew, you can also Google my as-yet-unfinished blog series, Getting to Know Jesus One Chapter at a Time.)

I'll write more on the specific texts tomorrow, hopefully.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

The Economist Presents Refreshing Model for Debate in Editorial on Iraq War

Our son subscribes to The Economist and I get The Week. Both arrived in our mailbox yesterday and both had cover stories, predictably, on Iraq.

The Week presented a balanced summary of the debate over the future of Iraq policy as it happened in Congress and the media following Pennsylvania Congressman John Murtha's startling proposal that the US begin a phased, six-month withdrawal from Iraq.

The Economist, that venerable British publication, features an editorial titled "Why America Must Stay." For Americans, mired in the cliches of Red State/Blue State combat, the argument presented there, whether one agrees with where the editorial lands or not, is interesting.

The editorial largely confirms the critiques of most opponents of the war in Iraq. It claims that:
Mr Bush's team mis-sold the war, neglected post-invasion planning, has never committed enough troops to the task and has taken a cavalier attitude to human rights.
The editorial even agrees with those who say that while Iraq was not a theater in the global war on terrorism before the US invasion, it has become that now.

But, The Economist says, "In our opinion it would be disastrous for America to retreat hastily from Iraq." Ultimately, the magazine argues that while the price of remaining in Iraq is high, precipitate retreat would exact a greater price from America. "Driving America out of Iraq," the editorial asserts, "would grant militant Islam a huge victory. "

As you know, it's not my policy here--except in the rarest of instances--to commend particular political opinions. So, I'm not doing that here.

What I found interesting about The Economist article is a quality I wish I could see more of in our political discussions, a freedom to depart from the safe conventions of political isms and to consider all the arguments, no matter what their philosophical pedigree.

In short, it would be wonderful to have less heat and more light in our political discussions.

Longing for Christmas in the Midst of Winter

[Message shared with the people of Friendship Church, November 27, 2005]

Mark 13:24-37

On December 9, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the original book one in C.S. Lewis’ classic Chronicles of Narnia, will come to movie theaters. I haven't been this excited about the release of a new movie since A Hard Day's Night came out in 1964.

Near the beginning of Lewis' classic tale, four children from our world, enter by way of a wardrobe, into another world. They find themselves in a place called Narnia, then living under the spell of a White Witch who has made it “always winter, always winter and never Christmas.”

But the hope of spring comes into Narnia when Aslan, the Great Lion, the son of the Emperor-over-the-Sea, returns to Narnia. I’ll say no more for those who haven’t yet read the book. (And please do yourself a favor by reading it and all the Narnia books!) But I will say this:

I suspect that the moods of many people in our world today can be described as Narnia is described at the beginning of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. For them, life is “always winter and never Christmas”:

drudgery without joy,

longing without fulfillment,

fear without encouragement,

and for some, sorrow without hope.

We each of us know what it is like to yearn, as Lewis puts it in another book, for "another country." I imagine that at their root, every longing you and I have ever known, goes back to our desire for something better, which we are all the time imagining can be fulfilled by some one or some thing here on earth.

I certainly remember that as a boy, this time of year seemed to drag on endlessly. The sun sank early, the nights lasted forever, and it seemed that Christmas would never arrive. And while I was usually quite happy with my gifts, they didn't give me a joy that endured.

But the wintry state of our souls can be seen in more than little children with their Christmas lists. I spoke with a man the other day who told me that his teenage son, formerly an honors student and a great athlete, has gotten involved with sex and drugs and destructive patterns of behavior. When a psychologist asked the young man why he had taken his life in this direction, he said, “Look, either the terrorists, or global warming, or some natural disaster is going to get me anyway. We’re all going to die soon. So, I just want to live while I can.”

For this young man, it was always winter and never Christmas. But it doesn’t have to be that way for any of us!

We can live with joy, even in the midst of the humdrum.

We can have our deepest yearnings for wholeness met.

We can face each day with a hope that knows that one day all our sorrow will be turned into laughter and dancing!

Today is the first Sunday in Advent, the beginning of a new Church Year. Advent is a season of anticipation, of waiting. It coincides with the ebbing days of fall and the first stirrings of winter. But unlike that Narnian winter, our winter of waiting looks forward with the confident assurance that Christmas will come.

And it’s more than the celebration of Christmas, that day long ago when God came into the world in the person of the baby Jesus, that makes our Advent winter waiting bearable.

In Advent, we also remember that one day, Jesus, the Lion of Judah, the King of kings, the Son of God the Father, is coming back.

He, Who once died and then sprang to life again, will return.

All the dead who have hoped in Him will rise again and all still living who have followed Him will be with Him in a kingdom that lasts forever.

In Advent, we remember that all followers of Jesus Christ, whose sins have been forgiven, have a hope that not even death can destroy. (Did you hear that? We have a hope that not even death can destroy!)

That’s why the color of this season is blue, the color of a bright spring sky, when life is new and the possibilities are endless.

In our Bible lesson for this morning, Jesus addresses people to whom He has revealed that the massive, sumptuous stones of the temple in Jerusalem will one day crumble and disappear. His fellow Jews can hardly believe it! Like us, the ancient people of God built monuments of faith to God which also, in their way, served as monuments to their own egos. The ancient Hebrew and Judean peoples thought that the Temple would stand forever.

If it were to crumble, Jesus' disciples seem to think, then surely the end of the world must be close at hand. It depresses them. They wonder about the signs that will take place before the end. Jesus goes on to describe events like earthquakes and persecutions of believers, things that are going on today...and that have gone on for thousands of years.

What Jesus is saying is that the end, which will be followed by His reappearance and the establishment of His eternal kingdom could come at any time. But that shouldn’t depress us. Nor should it be the subject of speculations. Instead, we need to be prepared for His return. Jesus puts it this way:
"But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake."
During our season of waiting, of longing for Christ to act in our lives, we’re called to remain awake, alive, tuned in to God, ready for Jesus’ appearance. But what exactly does that mean?

In a wonderful message on this text, Lutheran pastor David Stark identifies three ways you and I are called to wait on Jesus.

First: We learn how, in the phrase of the Old Testament, to “be still and know” that God is God.

You know, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, there are radio and TV broadcast signals and cable and satellite transmissions. We’re literally surrounded by signals and transmissions in the air and the earth around us. It never stops. But unless you turn on your TV set or your radio, you won't receive any signal.

Long before there were radios or TVs or the Internet, God was reaching out to us. God is a great communicator. Isn't it interesting that in one of the accounts of creation in Genesis, we find God saying a word and bringing life into being? And the Gospel of John describes the God Who comes to us in Christ as "The Word." "The Word became flesh," John says, "and dwelt among us."

God speaks a word and hope and brand new starts come to every one of us. And He does this 24/7. People who wonder where God is in our world are people who haven’t taken the time to be still, to read God’s Word, and let Him speak to them in some silent portion they dare to carve out of their days.

David Stark points out that on the first Christmas, the only ones who seem to have gotten the word about the birth of Jesus, were shepherds, men who spent long nights in silent watching of their flocks. The saying is true, “If you feel a long way from God, you can be sure it isn’t because God moved.” God is as close as your Bible, as close as a prayer.

As hard as it may be in the busy-ness of this Christmas season, I challenge you if it isn’t part of your daily routine to wake up fifteen minutes earlier than usual or to turn off the TV or computer fifteen minutes before you go to bed at night and spend time asking that the dear Christ will enter into your life in fresh ways to guide you and fill you with hope. In the stillness, He will come to you, I promise.

After we’ve experienced Christ in the stillness, we’re then to act on what He shows us in our silent times with Him.

Years ago, during a time of silence with Christ, the thought impressed itself on my mind that I should send a thank you note to my fourth grade teacher, Dorothy Everett. It had been decades since I had seen her or talked with her and I thought at first that the whole idea of sending a note to her was a bit looney. But then I remembered that she had believed enough in us not to accept anything less than our best efforts. So, I sent my note. Two weeks later, I learned that she had just died.

The love of Jesus in our lives calls Christians not to a life of passivity, but to a life of action.

Sometimes, the action to which Christ calls us will make us blessings to others, as I hope I was when I sent a note to one of my elementary teachers.

Sometimes, Christ will call us to act to receive His blessings.

I'm sure that you know the story of the man whose house was caught in a flood and the water rose so high that he took refuge on his roof. A neighbor came by with a row boat and offered to take him away. But the man said No, he was waiting for God to save him. Then, a rescue crew in a speed boat offered him a ride. But again, the man refused, saying he was waiting for God to save him. Then, the National Guard came along in a helicopter and lowered a ladder to him. No thanks, he said, I’m waiting for God to rescue me. Not long after, the man was drowned. In heaven, he told God how disappointed he was that God hadn’t saved him. “What do you mean,” God asked, “I sent two boats and a helicopter for you.” Part of watchful waiting for God is to act when He prompts us to do so.

Waiting on the God we know in Jesus Christ also means not giving up on Him. This only makes sense, when you think about it. God has never given up on you: He went all the way to the cross so that He could bring you back into fellowship with Him. He’s never going to leave you. So, waiting for Him with watchful, trusting faith is a reasonable, rational response to Him.

Those who belong to Jesus Christ know that no matter how wintry this world may become, Christmas is coming and beyond it, the certainty of a resurrection with Jesus Christ. Life in this world isn’t perfect, but the God we know in Jesus is and He promises a hope that never dies to all who dare to wait for Him--
  • Who take the time to be still and sense His presence;
  • Who act on their faith in Him through lives of love and service and humble acceptance of His blessings; and
  • Who trustingly wait for Him when all around us may be crazy.
The crucified and risen Jesus is still on the march. Let’s be ready for His return, whenever it may come.