Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Leaving the Mortal Behind

A friend of mine is dying. He has lung cancer. I will not see him before he dies because he lives in another country.
He recently posted his final Facebook post. He is too sick to receive visitors anymore.  I was trying to think of what I could write in the comments. I looked up 2 Corinthians 5 which talks a lot about looking forward to a new home in heaven. And then this in v.4:

For while we are still in this tent, we groan under our burden, because we wish not to be unclothed but to be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life

What is mortal may be swallowed up by life.
Stunning!
Mortality is not life - it is not all of life. Real life is coming. It is around the corner. Death is the door into real life.
Mortal life ends, so that real life can begin.

When my friend sheds this mortal coil, he enters into the reality of which this life is such a faint shadow. What we consider our greatest earthly joy or achievement will be unrecognizable from the heights of heaven. That is why Christian funerals are a mixture of sad goodbye and hopeful anticipation.

This Christian hope is grounded in historical fact. When Jesus rose from the dead, he gave us a vision of the future. Jesus really rose from the dead which means that what is mortal in us will one day be swallowed up by life.

For my friend, what I write will become first hand experience, not mere thought or belief. And for that I am both happy and sad.

Friday, April 03, 2015

From the Cross to Paradise

Jesus did not die alone. There were at least 2 others crucified with him. Two thieves. One on either side.
The social and emotional context surrounding him was painful.
The crowds, the guards, the rulers and even one of the thieves kept mocking him:
"Come down from the cross, if you are who you say you are."

The death of Jesus was the ultimate vindication of the crowd - he wasn't who he said he was.
We were right - he was a fraud.
They all mocked .... except.

Except for one of the thieves.

He rebukes the other thief:

"Don't you fear God, since we are under the same sentence. We are being punished justly. But this man has done nothing wrong."

Amid the din of rebuke, sarcasm and ridicule came the voice of truth from a ragged dying shell of a human propped up on that Roman gibbet.

The thief understood the human condition - "we are being punished justly." He understood that he was getting what he deserved. And he looked at Jesus and realized there was no way that Jesus deserved to die in the same way.

Jesus was dying unjustly - an innocent man.

And then the thief turns to Jesus and says:

"Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."

Jesus  - remember me.
Don't forget me.
I am dying, I am suffering. I am crying.
But, don't forget me.

Everyone else has written me off, but please Jesus, remember me.

The thief also knew that the cross was not the end of Jesus' story. Somehow, he knew that Jesus was building a kingdom and the thief wanted to be part of it.
Take me with you! I want to be part of your kingdom!

And he gets his prayer.

Jesus says, "Truly, I tell you - today you will be with me in paradise."

From the cross to paradise. The journey happens via the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ.

And the thief made the trip.

Friday, March 20, 2015

#racetogether and other bad ideas



Starbucks has embarked on a campaign. But, it is not a campaign to get people to drink more coffee. No, they want to get people talking. That is a good thing. People should talk.
What should we talk about in a coffee shop? Movies? Music? Clothes? The Freudian postulate that our thoughts are merely high functioning nero-physiological reactions to external stimuli?

Nope. Let's talk about race. Starbucks has instructed their lovely baristas to scrawl Race Together across your Venti Latte, along with your name and what kind of elixir you have ordered them to make for you.

So, at a time when racial tensions are at a zenith of touchiness, Starbucks thinks its a good idea to have those two words slide toward you, followed by the cheery announcement of "Santosh, your chai tea is on the bar!"

I am befuddled as to what I should do then. Am I actually supposed to engage my barista? Why would I? What would I say? How on earth would I be able to explain how the contemporary prison industrial system is in fact the new Jim Crow? Or that we live in 2 Americas - one white and one black. And that those of us who are neither, sit on the sidelines helplessly watching each side yell back and forth until hoarse.
Also - how can I talk to them, when they are always so busy? Even when there are no customers ordering or in line, I have never seen a Starbucks employee just hanging around. They always have something to do.

So, why am I blogging about this? Because race relations is a serious issue and 2 words scrawled across a paper cup by a black sharpie seems to cheapen the dialogue. But, this plan seems to be a part of larger trend in American society.

This trend is seen in how information is exchanged. The nightly news is the worst example of this. Massive stories are siphoned down into a 70 second "report". The ability to think longer and deeper seems to be fading. I like watching PBS and BBC news. There are a few American news shows that take the advantage of going a little deeper - 60 Minutes seems to be the best example.

#racetogether, yeah - but #thinkdeeper too.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Love After Love

Last week I taught an Adult Education Class called "The Limits of Romantic Love". The class focused on a quote by C.S. Lewis that I had used in a previous sermon on marriage. In a section in Mere Christianity, Lewis gives his views on Christian marriage. He makes an insightful observation on the difference between romance and the deeper love that grows later in a marriage.

Due to the short attention span of our current culture, once romance or emotion has dissipated from a marriage, we tend to grow bored and seek "fulfillment" elsewhere. But this is not wise. By moving on from partner to partner we miss out on the deeper love, Lewis eludes to. The hook-up culture of millennial does not build love. It might provide temporary glandular excitement. But, in the process it numbs our emotions, making this deeper love impossible.

This deep love is not as exciting as romance, but is is far more fulfilling. Deep love only grows and flourishes in the hard soil of adversity, tedium and patience. It is the love that grows through the challenge of raising children,
the attempt to balance a household budget
career disappointments
health setbacks
relational frustrations.

It grows and grows until one day you are peering into a casket and find yourself explaining to someone 60 years younger than you what real love is. The young person will ask you the secret of your long marriage. And you will reply that

"Love, true love grows up and out of romance. It grows into a strong bond. We loved each other, even on the days when we weren't in love with one another. That bond, that love is on display not just over candle lit dinners. No, it is on display when you are old and sick and your lover cleans the mess off your face without complaining. That is the deep love. It is the love after love."

Sunday, January 25, 2015

MLK, DOROTHY AND ME


Dorothy and me.


Dorothy and King.


I recently had an experience I thought I would never have in my lifetime.
This past October I was introduced to an elderly African American woman in our congregation named Dorothy Cotton.
Dorothy usually sits in the row behind my family near the front on Sunday mornings. She is brought to the church by a young family that lives near her.
I soon discovered that Dorothy Cotton was the highest serving female in the Southern Christian Leadership Convention - the sole female permitted into Martin Luther King Jr's inner circle. She was involved in many tactical decisions at the highest level of the civil right movement. Her focus was on education.
If you google here name, pictures come up of her with King at various events.

This past Martin Luther King Day I was invited to have lunch with Dorothy, along with my colleague, Pastor Eric Hause. The venue for our lunch was quite intersting: a local soup kitchen. We walked in. Our newer clothing clashed loudly with many of our fellow diners. After getting our food, we sat with Dorothy and a few of the staff in the kitchen.

Dorothy told us a variety of stories about Martin. The context of important decisions that King made, including the decision to march at Selma. On my phone I kept finding pictures of her with King. She would then yell with delight and then explain what was happening in the picture.

It was an unforgettable time sitting with this amazing woman who helped lead this nation out of darkness and into light.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Sin

I think policeman hate crime.
I think firefighters hate fires that destroy.
I think doctors hate disease.

And I kNOW pastors hate sin.

I am a pastor. And the longer I have been a pastor, the more I have come to hate sin.
I hate sin. The reason I hate it is because,, I spend more time than others in the midst of the damning effects that sin has in the lives of others.

The Bible says the wages of sin is death.
But, one does not have to wait for death to feel the effects of sin.
Sin kills slowly, entering in through any small opening we give it. Like an ever ravenous cancer it slowly drains all joy and pleasure out of life.

I sit in the midst of the nuclear fallout of sin on a regular basis. If that was the only place I sat, I would be in constant despair.
But, my life is balanced out by also sitting in the presence of God.

The following keep me from falling over the pit:

Regular meditation on the character of God.
Reading the Psalms.
Silence.
Watching my children at play.
A walk through the woods.

And ultimately I adhere myself to the reality that "The Son of Man was revealed for this purpose
TO DESTROY THE WORKS OF THE DEVIL"

I live in that reality - someday all this evil, all this sin will be rubble in the textbook of history.

All the sin, all the pain, all the tears will come to an end.

And until that day, my hatred for sin will continue unabated.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

A Four Year Old Faces Rejection

I love Tuesdays. Tuesday are my day off. When you are a pastor, you work Sundays and so most pastors select a day during the week to take off. The best part of my day off is that I get to pick my 4 year old son James up from his pre-Kindergarten class.
Today, his teacher said James was a bit quiet and not his usual exuberant self. And then she quietly confided that his best friend had ignored him and had been playing with other kids. James' tender 4 year old heart was broken. Felicia asked me if that made me sad. Of course it did. No emotionally healthy parent is immune to the pain that their children endure from time to time.

But later on, I pondered it a bit more. I am still sad that James was sad. But, the rejection and pain he went through today help form him into a whole human being. If James went through life facing no pain or rejection, he wouldn't be real. He would be a detached person without the ability to empathize with others in pain.

The pain James went through today can be used by him for future disappointments. It teaches him that even our closest friends will disappoint and hurt us. And it will help him realize that he also has the capacity to injure others through his own indifference. I don't expect him to actually learn all this stuff today - he is only 4 and is currently playing with his Lego Hero Factory action figure, (not nursing his emotional bruise). But under the guidance of parents who love him, we can help guide his heart out of hurt into healing, and he will mature through the journey.

The deepest hurt a human being endures is the pain of rejection. When someone we love experiences rejection we need to double our expressions of love, affirmation and acceptance of them. Which I plan to do tonight with extra snuggles and extra halloween candy.