Sunday, February 24, 2013


As I watch the Oscars, I'm amazed at the pomp of the ceremony.  Seth MacFarlane says that about a billion people are watching.  The movie industry had $10.8 billion in revenue in 2012.

We watch interviews of our favorite celebrities, to see how real they are.  Fans follow their moves through the year, and obviously, we flock to the movies

There is a reason that movies capture our attention so much.  Movies are a medium of storytelling.  We get lost in stories.  We find our way in stories.  We experience catharsis.  We go on dangerous adventures.  We hate the villains.  We cheer for the heroes.  And often we find ourselves. 

Jesus knew the power of story.  He captures our attention with his parables.  He draws us in with conflict and intrigue as he works miracles and challenges the religious authorities.  Jesus told stories and lived stories.

Movies are powerful because they tell stories.  And our own lives are stories, stories more powerful than we know.  May the stories we live eclipse the stories we see.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Why Slavery?

We celebrated Freedom Sunday on February 17 at Crossroads.  For many of us, it was eye-opening.  There are more people enslaved now than at any time in human history:  27 million.  This comes as a surprise, because we have too narrow a view of slavery.  For most Americans, slavery is that institution, present at the founding of our country, which was abolished through the American Civil War.  Even today we live with the fallout of that defeated system of abuse.

But with such a narrow view of slavery, we miss the larger context of slavery.  It is a symptom of the corruption of the natural human soul.  People were enslaved from the dawn of history, and people are enslaved today, people of all skin colors. 

We are all born into a historical context, with certain behaviors expected and viewed as normal.  In ancient cultures, it was often expected that conquered peoples would become slaves of the victors.  This certainly provided incentive for generals and soldiers to win battles.  The way of the world was dictated by the sinful heart of man.  Those were the accepted rules, and so slavery naturally resulted from war.  Those are no longer the accepted rules, but slavery lives on.

The stories of slavery today still reveal a sickening brutality, buried deep in the hearts of people.  How could anyone treat other persons so cruelly?  What could motivate such actions?

With slavery as part of the human condition, there must be something fundamentally perverted in human thinking. 

Consider the (possible) thoughts of one who deals in slaves today. 

·         If I am stronger than you, smarter than you, have some strategic advantage over you, then I can use you to my own advantage, without regard for any consequences you may face.

·         Life is about me, and my getting things that I want.  You are a means for me to get what I want, and I can do with you anything that I can get away with.

·         I benefit by controlling you, feeling free myself, and making money.

·         You are not really a person, and not worthy of my respect, because:  you are too trusting, you look different from me, you happened to be in the wrong place,  

·         Every person is out for himself.  The only person who matters is me.  If you don’t know that, you lose.

Apparently those patterns of thinking are cultivated among those in the slave trade.  Slavery happens when people take the natural selfish thoughts of corrupt humanity and live them out ruthlessly.

Christ rescues us from our selfish frame of reference.  Jesus is the ultimate in selflessness.  He took the punishment he did not deserve, so that those who deserve the punishment might be free.  He saw the value of people, because they are made in the image of God.  The only hope for humanity is the transforming relationship with God through Jesus. 

Yes, we need to fight against injustice and work against slavery.  We need to use the court systems and political processes to end the slave trade.  But our most effective weapon against slavery is the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  He transforms us, not by new rules and systems, but by changing our hearts so that we want to love our neighbors.

Monday, February 18, 2013

A Peace of Lent

My daughter inspired me to sacrifice for Lent.  She has determined to abstain from chocolate for the 40 days leading up to Easter. Meanwhile, my wife is forgoing snacks after supper.  Whether motivated by peer pressure, guilt, or actual spirituality, I thought I should also give up something during the season.

Because I don’t follow the church calendar very strictly, I needed to remind myself of the history behind Lent.  The tradition began in the early centuries of the church, as a 40-day period of fasting, leading up to Easter.  With fasting six days per week, excluding Sundays, the Lenten season begins on Ash Wednesday and concludes at Easter.  The sacrifices we make during this season call us into the suffering and sacrifice of Jesus.  The term Lent derives from the German word for “long” or “spring,” as the days grow longer this time of year.

I remember making Lenten sacrifices as a teenager.  One year I chose to give up afternoon TV.  I gave up detailed knowledge of sordid affairs on the soap operas for bonus time playing outside or even doing homework.  It really changed my life, and I never went back.

This year I am giving up listening to the radio in the car.  Normally I listen to some music, and lots of talk radio.  It does help me stay informed, but a little goes a long way.  Now, as I drive, I enjoy peace.  I'm praying more, observing more, and thinking more.

I may be less informed.  But I'm probably more informed about the things that really matter.

When I get in the car, I still catch myself reflexively reaching for the radio knob.  I’m working against a deeply ingrained habit. 

I can't begin to compare my sacrifice with the suffering of Jesus.  I'm barely giving anything up.  I'm listening more to God, and tuning in to eternity.  Looks like I'm the one receiving the gift. 
That's how Jesus rolls.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

How's Your Love Life?

I had a relative who would ask my sister every Thanksgiving, “How’s your love life?”  I lived in fear that one day she would ask me.  I did not have a good answer.  (She never did ask me, so I was safe.)

Because love is central to the life Jesus wants us to live, it is a great question for us.  Especially today, on Valentine’s Day.

How are you loving yourself?
We don’t want to be narcissists, but a healthy love of self is the foundation of good relationships.  Jesus says that we are worth loving.  But sometimes we argue with him…

How are you loving God?
He deserves our whole hearts, and all the rest of us.  He loves us so much that he sent his Son to die for us.  Loving God is more than sentiment.  We need to love him with heart, soul, mind and strength.  Much easier said than done. 

How are you loving your neighbor?
Again, love is more than sentiment.  As Bob Goff says, Love Does.  Love is constantly going into action.

How are you loving your family?
They see the best and the worst of us.  Let’s tell them and show them we love them, not just today but every day.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

A Dangerous Idea

            My sermon on Sunday got me thinking about my possessions.  Jesus told an inquirer, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Matthew 19:21). 

            We can easily dismiss Jesus’ instructions, and explain why giving all to the poor is not a serious idea for us today.  But Jesus may seriously ask you or me to cash it all in, give it all away, and then follow. 

            This is dangerous thinking.  I have never been homeless, so I am not speaking from personal experience.  I can’t even recommend this course of action.  This is dangerous stuff.  But I have been doing some brainstorming about following Jesus’ instructions.  How would that really work today?  I also wonder how Christians would rock the world, if just a few of us did this.  It’s not likely, and we all know why.

            Nevertheless, here are my ideas about following Jesus into poverty.

1.      Make sure this is God’s will.  This is such a radical move that I would be certain that God was leading me to do this.  We  can also remember that self-induced poverty can be reversed.  I suppose that Jesus could want me to live this way, but only for a season.

2.      Enlist the support of family and friends.  Of course I would have to bring other people along with me on this experience, and I would never attempt it without my wife’s support.  Many times she has helped me avoid stupidity, and I would listen very carefully to her ideas about a personal experience in poverty.  I also recall that Jesus warns his followers that allegiance to Jesus will strain relationships.

3.      Enlist a friend to pray with you.  An intentional dive into real poverty would be spiritual warfare.  My family and I will need God’s protection emotionally, physically, socially, and spiritually.  I will need to stay in touch with a prayer partner, whether by visiting or borrowing a phone to call him.

4.      Arrange to pay off debts.  I need to fulfill my legitimate obligations when I liquidate.

5.      Consider where to live.  Children must be kept warm and clothed, and so my living arrangements must be suitable for my whole family.  I might find a friend with whom we could live, or maybe several friends in whose homes we could stay for a few days or weeks at a time.  I could earn my keep by working projects around the house and yard.  Failing that, I could get permission to camp on someone’s land.  In that case, I would need camping gear, and some means to haul it when I moved—maybe a large cart or wagon.  If we opted for urban living, we could stay in homeless shelters during cold weather, and stay under bridges in warmer times.

6.      Inventory your possessions.  If I were to sell everything, what would be included?  Not only would I need to consider my hard assets, but also my bank accounts and investments.  I would need to return borrowed items and find suitable homes for the heirloom furniture in my house. 

7.      Plan the sale of your possessions.  I will need to balance speed of sale with selling at top dollar.  I will consider the best way to sell various items.  Some items may fetch the best price on Ebay, while other items I could sell to friends.  Do I need to work for top dollar on my possessions, if I’m giving the money to the poor anyway?  The fastest way to sell would be absolute auction, if speed is my primary consideration.  The sooner I can follow Jesus, the better, right?

8.      Have mail forwarded to a friend.  Even without a home address, I may need to receive some correspondence.  I should have no bills coming for me, however.  This friend will need to know how to reach me, and bring me my mail.  My prayer partner would be the perfect person.

9.      Make arrangements at work.  Chances are that Jesus will call me to leave work when I begin to follow him so radically.  I’ll let the boss know, so that my leaving won’t come as a surprise.  Maybe I will train my replacement.

10.  Cancel all subscription services.  This includes cell phones, internet access, utilities, insurance. 

11.  Find a way to get food.  We will get hungry soon after we sell and give away everything.  I’ll need to know where soup kitchens are.  I may have a list of friends who will give me food or share meals with us. 

12.  Find arrangements for bathing.  Homeless shelters often have shower facilities.  Bathing in public restrooms is not optimal, so we will want to bathe where we sleep, unless we are under bridges or in a tent.  It may be possible to bathe in streams in some areas.  We won’t want to do that in cold weather unless absolutely necessary.

Near Kingston, Jamaica
13.  Determine how to distribute money to the poor.  The fastest and easiest way would be to give a lump sum to one or more charities that aid the poor.  Through research and prayer I could find the appropriate places for my donation.  I think it would mean more to me, however, if I gave directly to the poor.  I could see them face to face and have some connection with them.  I will need a way to find these people, and I may need some sort of selection process to weed out the non-poor.  Cash would be the best way to share.  Would I give the same amount to everyone, or would I give more to some than others, depending on the Spirit’s leadership and my sympathy for their situation?  Giving out money sounds easy, but the logistics would be considerable.  I would not want fights to break out.  And how do I want these gifts to change lives?  I would rather help people get on their feet than enable addicts to feed their addictions.  I wonder if Jesus would give to an addict…maybe he would.

14.  Follow Jesus.  After giving away my last dollar, I would be standing in the street, totally dependent on God, despite my diligent preparations.  Jesus may call me to serve in the country, in the city or on another continent.  But I would be ready to go anywhere and do anything.  I might even care more about the least of these.