Saturday, May 28, 2011


Anyone who knows me knows  that I am easily entertained by a funny graphic on a t-shirt. One of my favorites from years' past is one of Gandhi getting a gift. He's saying, "An empty box! My favorite!" I always enjoyed Gandhi's implication of the needlessness of so much of the clutter that makes up and sometimes over-takes our lives. Sometimes, the empty box is welcomed. It offers us much more potential. The tabula rasa--blank slate gives us the opportunity to create or fill our lives not with the pre-selected items, but rather with options to figure out what truly matters.

It's incredibly easy for us to get caught up in the stuff of life. The same carries over to our spiritual lives if we're not mindful. In Isaiah 29:13 it states: "The Lord says, 'These people come near  to me with their mouth and honor me with  their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.'" We need to be thoughtful in our places of worship. Unfortunately, too many churches are based on "gifts" these days--gifts of comfy, theater-style seating, top-notch performers, everything but the gospel and all of its hard-hitting truths. These showplaces sometimes seem to resemble entertainment venues more than places of solemn worship; like the "shifting shadows" in Isaiah, they will also come and go. It seems that anything that tends to be overly magnanimous by our earthly standards, tends to lead us away from our spiritual focus. Many religions follow the tenet of warning of the difficulties of maintaining a strong spiritual life and reaping the spiritual gifts if too caught up in the limitations of materialism. Many times the solitude of nature is the most spiritual hallowed ground--grass for our seat, birdsong for our music, and meditation one-to-one with our God. How comforting to know that "Every good and perfect gift is from above coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights who does not change (like shifting shadows)."--James 1:17 Those are true gifts.

What are gifts we can give to others? How about being "quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry," (James 1:19) What gifts can we give to show our obedience to God? "....getting rid of the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accepting the word planted in you which can save you." (James 1:21) Our gifts are already within us just waiting for us to recognize them. Loving one another? The greatest gift of all.

Christ, (during his time with his disciples) reminded them (and us) that we needn't keep our sights small when it comes to heavenly gifts. In the short time before his betrayal and crucifixion, he told them that he would soon be leaving the Earth in his current form as a result of man's intolerance of the truths he brought to light. He explained to them, "Unless I go away, the counselor will not come to you" (John 16:7). Gifts given to us beyond our wildest dreams. Christ giving up his life so we may have eternal life; Christ making way through his death, for God's love to come to us in even a stronger sense.

Gifts? Realize the limitations of the world's gifts. As great as they seem to us now, they many times come with a price. Want a true gift beyond description?  Bask in the infiniteness of God and Christ's gifts to us.

Peace be with you.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Aliens Afoot

It's quite a job to run the universe--I'm thankful every day that I have no part in it save my own backyard. This past week's uprising over an elderly gentleman's well-intentioned albeit mislead attempts at taking on the job fell short and created quite a bit of havoc in the meantime. If only he and his followers had remembered the words in Isiah 40:25-31. "The Lord is ever-lasting--the creator of the ends of the earth."(28) The creator and the one in control. Thank God.
The world as we know it these days isn't exactly an easy place in which to live. Sometimes we Christians feel kind of like aliens. That's not exactly a crazy idea. I Peter 11 states that we "Live as aliens and strangers in the world." Witnessing all the hatred and defensiveness that came from this past weekend's events further strengthens my belief that we are indeed aliens. We're just passing through on the journey. We don't need to get overly caught up in every mundane disagreement and opinion since we won't be sticking around forever. Again, thank God. 
We do remember that if we live as "aliens" on Earth, it's more than likely that we'll be treated as such from time to time. The laws of the land tend to get us in hot water on occasion. Oh, sure, it's easy to see that blatant law-breaking of man-made laws will bring retribution. That's why it's just not a great idea to incite a riot, yell "fire" in a group of people, or bring unfavorable attention to yourself in general.
But sometimes the lines blur...
...and this aggravates non aliens.
In I Peter "breaking the law" takes on a higher standard of moral law. And it gets tricky for folks who like things in nice, neat columns of "okay to do" and "not okay to do."
When it comes to making clear and concise delineations between concrete and moral law, we once again assuredly look to the example of Christ. Being the greatest moral and ethical teacher that ever walked on Earth, his actions were, nonetheless, interpreted by many a rabbi and church elder as breaking Jewish law left and right. He healed folks on the Sabbath; he and his disciples ate grain from the fields on the Sabbath. He questioned the unquestionable. He challenged authority. All moral and ethical laws were up for debate. 
He did, however, make it clear that there were great distinctions between moral law and mortal law. At one time he was asked about something he had said earlier about God's law being above all of man's laws. He replied with an answer that we aliens can easily remember: We give to the state that which is owed to the state; all else is God's. No brainer--done deal.
When we put our contemplation to the higher moral and ethical issues of life, then it gets more interesting. The lines start to divide, and the followers Christ's teachings begin to look and sound a little more alien. We might feel that in a higher sense that a seemingly mundane rule, law, or practice is not acceptable based merely on popular opinion. We go by our rule book; not everyone agrees with it and we get roughed up a little from time to time. 
Sometimes it can get difficult to be the odd folks out; it can get pretty lonely. In John 16, the disciples felt that sense of loneliness when, in the midst of their joy in being in the daily presence of Christ, he told them he would be leaving them. He explained that he would not be visible to them for a time which caused them to grieve the loss. After all that had happened in their time together--the miracles, the lessons, the life-altering events--and now he was leaving them. I'm guessing, in their most mortal moments they had fleeting thoughts of "why?" and "what just happened?" What good has all this chaos and suffering done only to end with Christ disappearing from them and everyone else? Once again, they just didn't yet understand. But Christ did assure them that the grief would be real--but temporary. The joy that would follow would be eternal. Their happiest moments spent on Earth would pale in comparison. And, of course, they believed. He'd never told them anything other than the truth--ever. And they knew it--as we do yet today.
And they did suffer for their relationship with Christ; not all the folks amongst them felt a spirit of love and acceptance of these aliens. And so it is today. It came out in many and various ways during the week and weekend past. We are assuredly aliens. 
But it's with the disciples, Christ reminds us that any of the grief we feel from being an alien is temporary. 
And, of course, since he is Christ, he never tells anything but the truth.
And we know it. 

Peace be with you.