Friday, October 27, 2017

Broken Law

I broke the law today.  This may seem an odd statement.  Most who know me, however, will assume a minor transgression.  "Speeding again,  "Drove through an orange traffic light", or even "Ate dessert before the entre".  I assure you, it was much worse.  I did something that has ramifications to another's well-being. 


I ignored them.


"Ok, sure.  Fine.  No big deal."  Except it is.


This person has a chronic storm of chaos in their life, partially through their own choices, and is often complaining.  I simply was not in the mood for it and I deemed I didn't have time for their drama so I ignored them; brushed them off.  I wasn't rude about it.  I was actually quite polite.  I lent a seemingly listening ear but in the back of my mind I was formulating my exit strategy to extricate myself from the conversation and when opportunity arose, I took it.  No harm, no foul - right?


I even felt pretty good about it.  Most people wouldn't even make eye contact for fear of the deluge of complaints I had just endured, but I politely listened for a whole minute-thirty.  And then, I closed the door on their life and went back to the tasks of my own very busy one.  Success - their drama remained theirs and I was free to pursue the multitude of tasks in my day. 


And in doing so, I became a law breaker. 


To some this seems an overly dramatic statement and to be honest, I have even wrestled with this.  Ever wrestle with God on something, feel that little gnawing in your heart, and seek to excuse your actions only to find the more you try to justify, the more your footing evaporates?


I have a scripture feed that comes across my phone and the verse that happened to be on my feed this day was a single sentence found in Galatians 6:2 which reads:


"Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ."


Ok, but surely this means the really important things like loss of a loved one, sickness, or other life altering traumatic events.  BURDENS with a capital "B".  I had to dig, I had to know what was being said so I turned to the Greek.  The word here, "baros" literally means any weight, any heaviness, any trouble be it seemingly heavy or seemingly light.  From deep poverty to the deep and profound revelations of God to the seemingly small.  We are to carry (walk with, step in line with the one encumbered) and in doing so we fulfill the law of Christ.


I was not willing nor had I the desire to bear or carry the burdens of this individual above and as a result, I found myself breaking or falling short of the law of Christ.  This sounded serious - I was just trying to preserve my priorities and responsibilities and not get entangled or overly bogged down in the chaos of another.  What is this law of Christ?


Literally, the word for "law" here can give reference to the Mosaic Law, the entirety of the Pentatuch (the first five books of the Old Testament held sacred by the Jews of Jesus' day) or the entirety of the teachings of Christ.  Further light can be shed on this if we look at Jesus' teachings in Matthew 22.


The scenario is that Jesus was teaching and the Pharisees and Sadducees were trying to outsmart and catch him in his own words and prove him false or corruptible at least.  A Pharisee, a scholar and "expert" of the Mosaic law addresses Jesus.


"Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 'Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?'
Jesus replied: 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it:  Love your neighbor as yourself.   All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.'  "
Matthew 22:34-40 NIV


Love God with everything in you.  Love people at the very minimum as much as would you love and care for yourself.  Jesus is telling these experts that all of their rules, laws and teachings boil down to these foundational truths.  These were the living breath of the "law", its essence.  This is the summation and this is the Law of Christ.  Where men seek a set of rules, Jesus was seeking to show redemption through relationship. 


Yet we (I) still struggle with this fact - it is through our sharing of burden that His love most effectively pulls the heart.  He modeled this for us repeatedly as he walked among us.  He ate with us, wept with us, wrapped his arms around our diseased bodies, frequented the company of those regarded lowest in our society speaking softly past adulterous tragedy.  Redemption through relationship.  Yet how often am I closing doors to these relationships?  Our schedules, our rationalizations, our agendas all mean nothing when we are not effectively instrumental in helping lost children find their way to the Father.  This is our highest calling.


Rather than looking for exit strategies to extricate and disentangle ourselves from the problems of others in an effort to preserve our to-do lists, our safety and our comfort, we need to look to the example of our Lord who went out of his way to cross paths with the troubled, burdened, and those needing a shoulder, a hand up, a healing touch, or simply an ear to listen.  They weren't conveniently gathered at a local charity event.  There was never a photo op or a t-shirt announcing involvement.  Often the burdened were all around him every day and approached when he was on mission to another appointment.  Convenience was never a factor - the relationship was always foremost.  These were lost that needed to be restored to the Father.


If I could live my life more like this, if we would all live our lives more like this, we would "fulfill the law of Christ."  Yet too often I find myself lacking enthusiasm or freedom to pursue this lifestyle either because of self-imposed agendas and priorities, or simply because I am not being sensitive to opportunities at hand.  When we lack adherence to fulfilling the law, in some form or another, we are then active in participating in broken law.


Because His law is unrelenting, restorative love.





Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Calm Before the Storm



Storms

With regards to them, most people fall into two categories.  You either love the power of nature on display, marveling at the apex of energy and physics that come together or you reside in the camp where concern over the destructive potential to both life and property pushes most notions of awe to hindsight.

I reside in the former.  I grew up in rural southern Illinois where boiling clouds heralding the approach of a summer storm was an event that broke the monotony of rolling plains and winding gravel roads.  Tall grasses leaning away from the approaching turmoil often promised an evening resplendent with nature's own fireworks display.  Refreshing rains momentarily pulled the oppressive humidity out of the air and brought to life remembered scents and fragrances of wild flowers and fauna normally stifled in the heavy late summer heat.  Storms, to me, were a thing of beauty.


Later in life and after marriage I found myself working for a local municipality in which part of my job description included "emergency services".  This translated to being on call to respond as a mandated "storm spotter" when severe weather approached.  On numerous occasions I found myself parked with a wide vantage point watching dark rolling clouds and storm gusts approach, lightning in tow.  I never ceased to be amazed at the beauty, power, or fury of the spectacle observed even as I tried to apply the known physics creating the scene unfolding before me.


My bride, on the other hand, is in the latter camp - partially by my doing.  While I was out marveling at the storm during these storm spottings, my bride was often taking infants, pets, candles, and radios to interior rooms by herself to huddle or take shelter as prescribed.  While I marveled at the lightning, the rain, and the wind, my bride was listening to it blow over our home praying for my safety and the safety of our children and our family.  Sometimes after the storm passed, while I was returning to the bunker of an "Emergency Operations Center" that was fully powered with backup generators and computers, my bride was sitting in the dark of a home without electricity.  Needless to say, my bride is not a fan of powerful storms to this day.


But the storms that none of us relish are those that are invisible.  These are the storms that rage against order, against security, against relationships.  These storms billow against our very peace and identity.  Like the approaching front, these storms herald a dread of the unknown and the fear of destruction.  Buffeting winds of circumstance, a deluge of fears, and the unpredictable strike of crisis erode our illusions of self-sufficiency as the impending torrent of "what-ifs" draws near.  We've all been on the hill watching these storms approach.


Confession:  I'm there now.


Many events conspire with singular design:  to cast us into despair.  Feeling a loss of significance in the face of the fury before us we take note of the destructive nature of the maelstrom.  But in the roar of howling winds a whisper:


Be still and know that I am God
Psalm 46:10  ESV


To embrace this is to embrace the literal translation:  "Relax, let go, and sink into the knowledge that I am God - the one who holds power over the storm."


Most are familiar with Jesus' teaching in Matthew 7 in which he compares those who listen to his words and do them versus those who do not.  The storms of life came to both and afterwards only one house remained.  The storms are promised.  No one, not one single person will escape this life without them.  Many will be swept away by them.  Some will remain steadfast and unmovable.


When the storm is over, there’s nothing left of the wicked; good people, firm on their rock foundation, aren’t even fazed.
Proverbs 10:25 MSG


Regardless of our personal outcome with the storm, there is One who is unaffected by the fury.  The storms that rage against us do not deter Him, do not stop his workings, do not force an alternate route.  They are inconsequential to His ability to accomplish His will.  These storms we often see as incapacitating are under His feet.



Tornadoes and hurricanes are the wake of his passage, Storm clouds are the dust he shakes off his feet.
Nahum 1:3 MSG


As such, we are again reminded:  "Be still..."


It is in the heart of the storm that He desires to bring us to a full dependency, absolute peace, and complete readiness for the path He has set before our feet.  There will be winds of circumstance.  There will be crashes of crisis.  Floods of fear may rise.  Again.  "Be still and know that I am God."


When we are filled with this truth, we are then perfectly moldable and ready for the journey ahead.  Our lives will become beacons to others as they note the power of the peace within.  They will marvel as they witness us become the Calm before the Storm












Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Futility

I've noted a marked continuance of this "resist at all costs" mentality that is surging through our nation.  Working for a large university I see it regularly but it is not limited to the moldable minds of today's students.  I marvel to observe this phenomena throughout all backgrounds and belief systems.  It permeates every aspect of our society as of late from political appointees to policy changes to election results reaching down even to the simple expression of viewpoints or the wearing of a tee shirt or a hat causing many to look less and less like the Christ they proclaim and more like the world in which they are called to "be separate" from (2 Corinthians 6:17).  This is happening from all sides, not just “left” or “right”; from all viewpoints to greater and lesser degrees.  People fail to look at other people to see a human being, but rather see only the embodiment of all ideals that are diametrically opposed to all that they value and cherish; in some instances the embodiment of ignorance and evil in business attire.  I do not exclude myself from this.  How often have I failed to see the man or the woman and only seen the darkness?  And in this – the darkness has won.


How?  Because we’ve joined arm in arm with those who have no spiritual inclination or Godly intent to promote like agendas that we value rather than seeking Godly movement and humility to change the course and hearts of our nation.  We are a land filled with activists, ready to share our opinions and espouse our viewpoints, but we fail to activate towards those who are in need of true compassion with the same fervor, we cease to share life-saving truth to dying souls.  Rarely do we espouse the great hope that exists for us who know the One who holds all things beyond just this nation’s future, but of all things for all eternity with the same fervor that we espouse our opinions on those we view to be lacking rights or a voice.


In the above call to the Corinthians for separation, the Apostle Paul was not stamping a notice of “unclean” on the world and stating that we are to have nothing to do with those who do not profess or recognize Jesus.  The verses above reference two separate Old Testament scriptures that would have been well known to Paul, a scholar of the scriptures.  The first is found in Isaiah 52 in which God is speaking to the nation of Israel.  He is exhorting them to pick themselves up, dust themselves off, take off the chains of ignorance and oppression that were upon them, to remove the things that had pulled them away from Him and placed them under the subjugation of others, to return to right relationship with him and to touch nothing that made them unclean and that he would protect them!

Depart, depart, go out from there!  Touch no unclean thing!
Come out from it and be pure, you who carry the articles of the Lord’s house.
But you will not leave in haste or go in flight; for the Lord will go before you, the God of Israel will be your rear guard.”


Isaiah 52:11-12

The second references Ezekiel 20 in which God is reminding a rebellious nation that despite the depths of their depravity, he is a Holy God and only a Holy people will approach him.  Due to the nature of their wickedness he would separate them from the nature and influences of the sin around them both from other nations and themselves so that they might purify them themselves.  When they do so, he will “accept you as fragrant incense” (v 41)

This was spoken to a nation that, like ours, had compromised its identity as “ONE NATION UNDER GOD”.  It was spoken to a nation that had become less identifiable as the nation with God’s hand on it and more identified as a nation that valued what other nations valued.  It was spoken to a people, who were content to look less like God and more like their godless or pantheistic neighbors. 

How, then, does this apply to us?

On tax reform?  On education?  On immigration?  On freedom of speech?  On the right to bear arms? On reproductive rights?

Certainly these issues are all weighty topics worthy of serious and informed discussion.  The marvel that I have come to appreciate more so in the last few years than in any time previous in my life is that no matter how weighty the topic or its implications, I am blessed to live in a nation of God given laws that both permits and requires dialogue without fear of the barrel of a gun, debate without coercion.  And yet at no time of my life have I seen such contempt and outright dehumanizing hatred of others simply because of the way they think. 

Regardless of the Biblical imperative to love all, this mind of mine still wants to rationalize hatred based on the atrocities being committed by genocidal brutality.  I can relate to a disregard for those who would themselves seek to inflict harm upon the innocent or the incapable.  But to hate someone because they think differently; because they think solution “B” is better than solution “D” or possibly have solution“B+C+D” which I don’t understand because it is not my own?...

The problem with this paradigm is that it is rooted entirely independent of the sovereignty of an all-powerful, all-knowing God.  Man has faith in his ability to make change and when confronted with obstacles, man must conquer those obstacles.  When this cannot be done outright, man must do whatever is necessary to discredit them to make those obstacles ineffective, often at the cost of integrity or truth.  All of this is done in man’s strength alone.

Passionate debate ensues.  Social Media erupts.  People you thought you knew suddenly reveal a side to their personality you either were unaware of or completely disagree with.  On the news violence erupts. All sides are guilty.

 

“Maybe that person isn’t as Christian as I thought they were…”

 

“No true child of God would embrace the scripture and still think like that…”

 

“You can’t think like that and claim to love others…”

 

"Their lack of grace makes them as rigid as the Pharisees..."

 

“I bet that person also agrees with…”

 

And we, those who are called out of darkness, align with those who proudly still walk in it to engage in this maelstrom of culture war that is ultimately inconsequential.  Why?  Because the physical cannot direct the spiritual.  Our efforts, our ideologies, our rallies, our marches, all of them do not elevate, detract, or lend in and of themselves to the war that is being waged in the heavens over this plane.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood contending only with physical opponents, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly supernatural places.

Ephesians 6:12

Yes, this scripture is old hat.  Yes we’ve heard it recited countless times in church.  Then why do we fail to live out this very hinge-pin facet of existence.  This would be no less critical or true as the statement “inhaling and exhaling regularly will promote a long life”.  Yet I have often performed the mental “eye-roll” when reminded of the above – as if I was being sold a cheap answer for a complex problem.

Further, we are oblivious to the regularly whispered, often ignored

"if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land".

2 Chronicles 7:14

Our debates, our public posts, our positioning – can very much of it at all be characterized by the word “humble”?

Finally, when looking to scripture for socially disruptive figures during a socially disruptive time in history, one need look no further than Jesus himself.  He had the religious societies, the political power players, and even the economic class all on their heads trying to pin him to the wall, trying to find something/anything that would allow them to discredit him – just one misplaced word or phrase, just one interpreted misdeed.  To their frustration they couldn’t.  And what was worse, he was attracting followers.  Not by the dozens or the  hundreds, or the thousands, but by the tens of thousands.  This man was on everyone’s radar.  This man could upend it all.  And what was his admonition in a time of oppressive political occupiers, unfair taxation, spiritual and religious calcification?  When everything in the known world needed overturned and he had to power to do so, the might and the right, what was his response?

And he opened his mouth and taught them saying:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.

Matthew 5:2-11

Hebrews 4:12 describes the Word as a sword cutting both ways, a surgical instrument discerning truth and intent, and surgery hurts.  Our outcry needs to be less at each other and more towards our Father if we are ever going to see the change we seek or if we ever desire to have our priorities align with His.  Then, and only then, will we see the only true justice that outshines social justice and promotes civil discourse. 

 

Until then...