Monthly Archives: December 2012

Mixed Messages

Message in a BottleRecently, I saw a young woman walk out of a store wearing a blue sweatshirt that had two words emblazoned on the back: “Love Pink.” It was probably a reference to the breast cancer awareness movement, or it might be that the young lady really likes the singer Pink. Or how about this, maybe she just loves the color pink, but if so, why was it on a blue sweatshirt? I’m so confused. What did her message mean?

Oh, oh, here’s a good one. I recently saw two bumper stickers on the same car: a COEXIST bumper sticker next to an ARMY bumper sticker. Aaargh! What are they trying to say?

We live in a world of quick ambiguous communication that can lead to misunderstanding. Compounding the problem is our flawed nature that can cause us to misunderstand and mischaracterize each other. Many hurts and conflicts arise because someone misunderstood a comment or action of another. Of course there are times when the other party intentionally snubs us or hurts us and their intent was communicated quite clearly. That is why I love this short clip on grace from the movie The Tree of Life:

This type of grace cannot be expressed into the world by human will alone. It can only come from God, though God often uses us to spread it in the world. Christ was the perfect manifestation of God’s grace towards us. Of course, there is a choice involved with grace: We can choose to live by grace or our base instincts, what the video clip calls nature. Grace is counterintuitive, but God loves it. If we got nothing else right in our Christianity, living by grace would go a long way in the Kingdom of Heaven. But I’ll admit: It is very hard to replace instinct with grace.

Maya Mania

Parched earthImagine my surprise upon waking yesterday morning to discover the world had not ended. (But then, that’s my reaction every morning.)

Misunderstood Mayan calendars notwithstanding, it’s interesting to note that many cultures, ancient and modern, believe the world will eventually come to a dramatic end. Even Hollywood cranks out post-apocalyptic movies that are both stunning and disturbing in their plots and visual effects. The Bible itself is sprinkled with prophecies about the end of the world as we know it, long before R.E.M. made it popular in song.

We humans have this morbid fascination with trying to predict when the end will come. I don’t think God asks us to predict. Prepare, maybe, but not predict. For me, the efforts by some prognosticators to predict the end feels too much like living in fear. I’m not suggesting we don’t take prudent precautions against the possibility of natural and man-made calamity. After all, the world is a dangerous place.

I recently read a book in which the author made a poignant observation. He said the world is ending one person at a time. Perhaps that’s how believers should live: like our life as well as the lives of our loved ones, neighbors and friends are ending one person at a time. I think I can safely predict (sorry, could not help myself) that everyone will die, except for a relatively small number who experience the rapture . . . and even those folks might experience physical death in the rapture. Some people die, tragically, long before they should while others, enduring ruinous old aged, linger longer than they would like. Perhaps God’s heart breaks because we don’t love each other more intensely and share the news about Christ, knowing that the world is indeed ending by the millions, one person at a time.

Oh well, it looks like I’ll still have to pay taxes in 2013. (When the IRS is no more, then indeed the world is ending.)

Evil in an Unexpected Place

MC900128690Americans have been shaken to our core by the unfathomable act of evil in Newtown, Connecticut. I can’t comprehend the agony of the parents and loved ones of those who lost their lives. It’s painful to even think about. Millions of people are actively praying for those left behind.

As a result of this tragedy, people have poignant questions: How could this happen? Is there a sickness at work in our society that produces such events? What was the killer’s motive? Has the cult of celebrity reached toxic levels, especially for our young people? Is the news media partly to blame? Should we crack down on certain types of guns? Should some teachers be armed? What is the state of security measures throughout our nation’s schools? Do we need better mental health options for unbalanced people? How can a loving God allow such things to happen? What can I do to help prevent these things from happening? Is there such a thing as evil in the world that drives some people to horrible deeds?

I’d like to address that last question. Ever since the age of enlightenment began, it seems like the concept of good and evil, at least in America, has gradually eroded. As a result, I wonder if the existence of evil is viewed as mere superstition by a growing number of people who believe there must always be a scientifically identifiable causation for such horrific events as we saw in Connecticut, even if we don’t know what it is right now. Don’t get me wrong, I am not advocating a return to the Dark Ages. Science has shown that some aberrant behaviors can indeed have a variety of origins such as heredity, chemical imbalance in the brain, substance abuse and the environment. Still, scientists would agree that it can be dangerous to seek solutions when we don’t understand the problem.

The trend of the population in America has been away from any identification with formal religion. As a result, I fear there is a growing population of persons who enter adulthood without any concept that there is a moral God who cares how we live and there are eternal consequences for the things we do and don’t do in this life. In other words, God is not aloof and disinterested in how we choose to live. Without that most basic understanding of humanity’s relationship with God, I wonder if a culture can long survive.

I don’t have any absolute answers as to why the murders in Connecticut happened. I’m just fearful that what we saw in the killer’s actions indicates a deteriorating connection with God in our culture. Without that connection to God, it is easier for evil to slip in and take root.

Psalm 14:1 is chilling:

Only fools say in their hearts,
“There is no God.”
They are corrupt, and their actions are evil;
not one of them does good!

If we want to help reduce the number of tragedies like we saw in Connecticut, we must start by raising our children to love and fear God. We must teach them the truth—that every person is accountable to God. Without that basic foundation . . . well, what is there to hold evil at bay in the human heart? Will human laws stop it? Human laws didn’t stop the killer in Connecticut.

Garbage

MC900040383It was garbage day and my street was lined with garbage cans awaiting the high priest of refuse and his noisy fume-belching chariot. You know what I mean: that monstrous contraption on wheels that sets every hound in the neighborhood to caterwauling precisely at 6 am. Anyhow, while walking I noticed that a few of my neighbors have very small garbage cans. The small garbage cans are little larger than the average trash can under the sink in most homes. (Who lives in those homes with such small garbage cans . . . hobbits?)

It got me thinking as I walked past the homes in my neighborhood: What kind of garbage is inside these homes? Is there infidelity, rage, abuse, violence, addiction, sickness, avarice, bankruptcy, sloth, selfishness, self-loathing, depression, worry . . . hoarding? Of course there is! This is the human condition. Each home contains stories and not all those stories are pleasant. There are even homes where everything is going well and the occupants perceive no need for God, and yet they are spiritually dead.

Should I go from door to door and share how God can change bad stories into good stories? The problem is that our neighborhood gets a lot of peddlers going door to door selling all sorts of goods and services. It gets tiresome. Because of this, I’m not sure going door to door would be effective in my neighborhood. So how do we, the church, reach people holed up in their homes?

Thankfully, most churches have a variety of outreach techniques to reach people in the local community. Besides, people are more likely to attend church if someone they know invites them. What I’d like to address here is what people can expect after converting to Christianity. Here goes: You will still have problems. (Yeah, I’m a lousy salesperson.)Sure, some folks experience a rapid improvement in their circumstances post-conversion. Those are exceptions, not the norm. Ask any Christian and she will tell you that problems don’t automatically go away just because you have Christ. At times they might even intensify. All I can say is that without Christ, the Holy Spirit, a healthy church, a few close Christian friends, prayer and the Bible, my house (my life) would likely overflow with garbage. Christ is the high priest who comes around and collects the spiritual and emotional garbage in my life and takes it far away. (Hey, that was a clever metaphor.) With Christ we get access to wisdom that can help us deal with our garbage. We don’t always make the best use of that wisdom, but at least we have access.

That Advent Feeling

Hand Holding Christmas LightsNow that I’m traversing midlife, I have a question: Is this it? I mean do I really have much to look forward to? Is my only remaining option to live vicariously through my adult children? (If so, I hope they soon get a life before I’m pushing up daisies.) Thank goodness for the Advent season. Allow me to explain.

Last Saturday I put up the Christmas lights on our house. That night I went outside and stood in the front yard to admire my handiwork. But something was missing. I didn’t experience that warm sentimental feeling I usually get this time of year when Christmas lights appear on the homes in my neighborhood and Christmas trees show up in front windows. Granted, at fifty-six I can’t expect to experience the same wonder and magic of Christmas that I did at ten. (The Polar Express is not going to stop in front of my house.) But on a deeper level, where is that fullness of life in Christ often mentioned by preachers and Christian writers? What does it look like? With my body and mind feeling more infirmities with the onset of age, I can’t help but feel a little melancholy. After all, what more can life offer when you have nearly outlived the ambition, faux immortality and energy of youth? Sure, I look forward to retirement and time with my wife and grandchild. Hopefully there will be more grandchildren. Still, life can be mundane.

Then I read an article that reminded me that Advent (which will soon be upon us) is about hope. Not so much hope for the improvement of my circumstances or exciting new developments in my life, but hope in a God who came to us and will come again. Hope in a God who works marvels through small, unskilled, flawed and insignificant people. Hope in a God who will make all things right. Creation itself will be healed. Just thinking about the hope in Advent and those ragged shepherds gazing at that bright star in the black vault above . . . well, it brought back that warm feeling I’ve been missing. Yes, there is something to look forward to.