Tuesday, February 24, 2015

One more thing

So often after I preach a sermon, I realize that I left something out. 

Last Sunday I preached from Acts 12:7-12.  In this story, Paul preaches to a group of Christians on a Sunday night.  They have gathered in a building in Troas, in a third story room.  As Paul preaches on toward midnight, a young man named Eutychus is sitting in an open window.  The young fellow drifts off to sleep, slips out of the window and falls to his death on the street below. 

Paul stops speaking and rushes down to the street, throws himself on the dead man, and announces that he's alive.  Amazing news!

Now, here's what I left out.  The name Eutychus means "Fortunate."  One wonders if that was his name all along, or maybe he got that nickname on his resurrection day.

Either way, the name fits.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Islam, Martyrs, and Us

It's getting real.  People are really losing their lives because they take a stand for Jesus.  I know it has always been that way, dating back to the Roman Colosseum.  I have heard about modern persecution in Sudan and India.  It's really been real all along, but it seemed so theoretical to me. 

Now we see the ceremonial execution of named believers by masked jihadists.  They, the murderers, are putting it in our faces.  They are intentionally provoking us.  And by "us," I mean Christians.  Or maybe I mean Americans.  Or the West.  Or non-Muslim theists.  Or all non-Muslims.  I'm not really sure.

Should the U.S. military bomb them, shoot them, invade them? 

This battle used to be clear to me.  They want us--Americans--dead.  So we kill them in self-defense.  But after reading this article in the Atlantic Journal I have a new appreciation for the complexity of the conflict.  I say I read the article.  I did the best I could to wade through the Arabic names and get the gist of it.

These radical Islamists are turning up the heat, emboldened by victories in Iraq and Syria, and relishing the developing caliphate.  It looks like they want an all-out war.  They point to the Koran for their authority to slaughter infidels.

But persecution comes with the territory for Christians.  Ever since Stephen was stoned, only months after the Resurrection of Jesus, Christians have been persecuted.  They were persecuted centuries before Muhammad was even born.  These Muslims are just the latest in a long line of persecutors, from Romans to Nazis to atheists to Jews.

Jesus expected his followers to be persecuted.  He repeatedly warned them and told them how to handle it.  The Book of Revelation prophesies about the martyrs and their strength of faith.  Somehow I thought those days were long behind us, providing mere inspirational stories of history.

And further, I'm ashamed to confess, I pictured Coptic Christians as ritualistic, cultural, nominal believers, caught up in tradition and the form of religion.  Then I saw the men in the orange jumpsuits.  And I learned that they were singing to Jesus as they died.  Just like Paul and Silas in prison at midnight.  But unlike Paul and Silas, these men did not live to see another day. 

Or maybe they are more alive now than ever before.  They stood with Jesus and now they stand with Jesus.  He makes their suffering more than worth it.  Death has brought them life.  Their deaths can also bring us--Christians--life.  Their deaths can wake us up.  Maybe I'm waking up.

It's getting real.  Now what will we do when it gets close to home?

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Happy Lent

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of the season of Lent.  It marks 40 days before Easter, if you don't count the Sundays.  During this time, Christians in liturgical traditions often set aside certain practices, so that they can focus on their relationships with God.

As I read the writings of
Richard Rohr, I find that he often mentions his hermitages during the Lenten season.  I'm gathering that this is an annual practice for him, a time of withdrawal from ordinary life to focus on the Lord.  I don't really know what a hermitage is, so I'm inferring from context what it must mean.  A hermit is someone who lives alone, with little contact with others.  A hermitage must be a season in which one lives like a hermit, for the purpose of extended time in prayer and reflection.

I don't plan to be a hermit for 40 days, but I do want to make the Lenten season special.  I just read a link on Facebook that suggested writing a note to someone--an actual pen and paper note--every day during the season.  I like that idea.

I may also bring greater focus to my prayer for others, and my listening to the voice of God.  I've got the rest of the day to decide exactly what I will do during the season.  I certainly want to connect with Jesus.

Friday, February 13, 2015

The Superpower of Rationalization

Today Oregon governor John Kitzhaber announced his resignation, as pressure mounted for him to step back.  Even his political allies believed it was time for him to go.  Controversy arose concerning his fiancĂ©e Cylvia Hayes, who received $200,000 in consulting fees as advisor to the governor..

I don't know many details, but I do see a recurring theme.  Someone rises to power and makes poor decisions.  Power, prominence and fame change people.  Somehow, most people do not believe it will happen to them.  Good people rise to leadership, then gradually or suddenly get stupid.

Hundreds of men and women serve in the U.S. Congress, a highly corrupt institution.  Many, if not most, of them came into office planning to change the culture of corruption and bring a new day of statesmanship and honor.  But Washington culture seems to change people.  In my district we have a new congressman, who seems to be a man of honor.  I pray that he can withstand the pressure to compromise on principle.  Somehow we have leaders who lead our country deeper in catastrophic debt, while passing laws that apply to everyone in the country but themselves.  How dare they?  And we reelect them. 

Somehow power corrupts.  It changes the way we see the world.  It changes the way people interact with us.  It affects our judgment, so that right and wrong become blurred.  We begin thinking of the greater good as an excuse for small, dishonorable choices.  We cultivate the superpower of rationalization, so that our bad choices look wise and good.

Last night Marie Holmes of Shallotte, NC became a millionaire.  I am happy for this PowerBall winner, but I am also sad for her.  All her friendships are now altered.  She suddenly has the power that comes with $188 million.  Long forgotten friends and relations will likely find ways to contact her, just to say hello.  Marie will not be able to trust any relationship as sincere, with so few exceptions.  She will also see the world differently.  The normal problems of finances will vanish, replaced with new, much more challenging problems.  She may not become corrupt, but it will be a challenge.

When we have power, our judgment and morals suffer.  It is the pattern of all human history.  Those in power need much stricter accountability than normal people.  With only rare exceptions, unaccountable persons in power abuse that power. 

The Founders of the United States understood this law of nature.  They provided a system that provides accountability, checks and balances, enumerated powers.  Yet those who take public office and swear to protect the Constitution somehow have led our country into a colossal cesspool of systemic corruption where integrity seems quaint.  The myriad layers of bureaucracy have numbed government workers into profound indifference, led by politicians more committed to gaining and retaining power than doing the right thing.

If all the corrupt politicians and bureaucrats resigned this week, there may not be much government left.  If people of honor then took their place, the honorable would face the intense pressure that comes with power.  The pressure to abuse power.

We need people with integrity inspired by humility and trust in God.  We need objective accountability, not more power-hungry politicians playing the game of gotcha.

Ultimately human government will never be perfect.  Only the leadership of Jesus is perfect.  In the meantime, we can pray for our leaders, look for more honorable leaders, and objectively hold all leaders accountable to truth and justice.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

How to Pray

I am wrestling with intercessory prayer.  I'm praying for someone who needs guidance and direction.  But I don't know what to pray. 

I could write the script, and ask God to make it happen. 
I could just glibly say, "God work it out." 
I could merely repeat the request for wisdom ad infinitum
I could pray for direction as I make things work out.

Somehow, however, none of these perspectives on prayer seems right.  I am stuck merely asking God what to pray for.  How do I pray?  What do I say?  Is prayer merely saying the right things.  Isn't prayer more than mere words?

So this situation brings me to my knees, on behalf of another.  I ask for clarity on how to pray.  I ask for his intervention, not knowing exactly what that intervention should be.

And I try to listen.  That's so hard. 

Lord, open my soul to have your heart for this person, for this situation.  Your kingdom come.  Your will be done.