Thursday, February 26, 2015

Go Out With Joy

Mark 1:40 - 45

A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus was indignant. He reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed. Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: “See that you don’t tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.”Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere."

Nine years ago this day I lost a good friend. I have written about Gary DuVaul here before; a wonderful minister with whom I lost track of for a while, and then reconnected with about a year before he died.

Gary was beloved by many because he had this gregarious, joyful faith. He was a happy teacher, quick to put complicated teaching into easily understood lessons. He was a man who was excited about Christ, and if ever you were in a lonely place, Gary was there.

Once when I was in such a position, Gary was one of the first people to call me to set up a lunch meeting. We had it all set up: meet at Coco's On State College Blvd. at Chapman. Easy enough. So I headed to the restaurant and waited. And waited some more. And some more. About an hour past our meeting time, I called his office; which required me finding a pay-phone because this happened a bit before cell-phones were widespread. He answered, amazed that I called wondering where he was. He told me he went to Coco's and waited for me to arrive but after 45 minutes, he returned to his office. Then it hit us both at the same time: There are two Chapman Avenues that cross State College; one in Anaheim, and one in Fullerton, and at the time, Coco's had restaurants at both! We both broke out laughing simultaneously. Without even meeting, Gary's love ministered to me in that lonely place, bringing me from sorrow to laughter.

The world lost a joyous man that day nine years ago, but Gary, who had suffered some pretty bad events in his life, was certainly called home in to that place that he loved the most, in union with God for eternity. He may have been beaten down several times in his life, but he always came back radiating joy. I loved and admired that about him so very much.

Ever been in a lonely place and had someone step in to help deliver you from your sorrow? How precious those visits are. But even more amazing is that joy each of us can bring to another, if we are willing.

I find this passage interesting. The leper asks if Jesus would be willing to heal him, and Jesus actually gets indignant! "Of course I am willing!" I'm not so sure I am always as willing to step in to help, but I pray for the opportunity daily.

Need a friend? Then go be a friend. Be willing. Share the love of God enthusiastically. Open your heart, and discover how by lifting the spirits of others, you too will be lifted.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

In Defense of Children

Luke 23: 27 - 31

A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the childless women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then“‘they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!” and to the hills, “Cover us!”’ For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

Maybe it was the epic film, Ben-Hur that causes us to think that along the path to his crucifixion, Jesus never spoke a word. It's not true, and the passage above gives a fairly long discourse by Jesus on his way to his death. It is hard to imagine this even occurring. We hear so much about other events along the path, such as Simon of Cyrene being forced to carry the cross for Jesus, or Veronica wiping his face. These events are depicted in the "Stations of the Cross" in the Catholic Church, and this event is the eighth stop along the 14 stations.

That Jesus had strength enough to say so much is amazing. After a sleepless night of being dragged from one end of town to the other several times, given repeated beatings, and being lashed forty times with whips that tore the flesh off his back, this almost sounds like a conversation the women of Jerusalem. One would imagine that by this point, Jesus would only be able to speak the shortest, most important thoughts in his mind. So to take this much effort to get all this out, Jesus must have felt it to be of tantamount importance.

"Don't cry for me; Cry for yourselves, and your children. Things are going to get worse for you and your offspring, to the point that you are going to wish you and they were never born. What you see here is what people will do when I am with you. Imagine how bad it will get after I am gone."

And bad it did and continues to be. Shortly thereafter, Jerusalem fell, and the followers of Christ were tortured and put to death in droves. And even to this day, there are daily reports of how children are stolen, forced into slavery, and treated in the most savage ways, some even by those claiming to be messengers of a supreme god. And lest you think this only happens of foreign soil, take a look at the sex-trafficking trade here in America. Some do not even get the opportunity to be born. Young children everywhere are being destroyed by evil people.

If you have any heart at all, it brings tears to your eyes. It makes you sick to think of the evil being done in today's world, especially to the innocents.

Well, after that uplifting set-up, where am I going with this? Simply to say that while Easter is a time to celebrate the gift of Life, it is meaningless if we try to forget how horrible mankind can be. We tend to be complacent. To certain acts against children we turn a blind eye, and make excuses that sound solid in polite society ("after all, everyone should have the right to choose"), and forget that every bit of life that break forth is not forgotten by God.

Defend children, for they do not have the voice you and I do, as adults. If it was important enough for Christ to say it in his last words, it should be important to all of us.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Fifty Shades of Green

Psalm 49:16 - 17
"Do not be overawed when others grow rich, when the splendor of their houses increases; for they will take nothing with them when they die, their splendor will not descend with them."

I live in a pretty nice place, though not far from here developers building some rather magnificent homes on a hill with a view of the Newport coastline. The model homes are nothing short of stunning. Enormous kitchens open up to family rooms and "solariums." Entry ways have courtyards and stairways leading separate loft apartments (presumably for "the help"). Back yards have pools, game rooms, koi ponds and more. It is splendor, for certain. A friend of mine went to see the models and said that after seeing those homes, he just wanted to go home and "throw rocks at his dump" (his "dump" is also pretty nice... just not nearly as extravagant).

Just last week I was in Honolulu, my wife and I walked from our hotel to a fabric shop she wanted to visit. On our way back to the hotel, we passed by a construction site where about ten homeless folks had set up their individual areas just outside of the construction gate. A wind storm the night before had pretty much torn the places apart. A tragic sight to see, especially when those hovels were built in the shadow of new skyscrapers being built for luxury vacation apartments. Even amid the prosperity of this tourist paradise, poverty survives.

If Lust comes in fifty shades of grey, then surely Envy has more than one shade of green. Some may be envious of the luxury homes and high rises, while the homeless may envy the neighbor who found a sturdier appliance box to live in. No matter where you live, there always seems to be somewhere better, bigger, and more attractive that that which we have. This creates a desire in us to improve our lot in life.

It's good to have goals. It's natural to want things. But how do you tell the difference between wanting something out of need, or desiring something out of envy?

My dad always liked nice cars, but I remember him telling me to not be too crazy about expensive wheels. "They can wrap themselves around a tree as well as any other car." He knew the true value of a car: to provide transportation. So while I appreciate the luxury of a Cadillac or a BMW, I find myself content to drive my Ford Edge. It isn't sexy. It isn't luxurious, although it is very comfortable and has some fun features like satellite radio. It is, in short, the car that is all I need... and as a plus, I'm car-payment free.

In this season of Lent, we talk about sacrifice. It is a time of letting go of the things in this world in order to focus our attention on God and his great love for us. This year I have a renewed interest in taking time for this. I find it easy to rid myself of a lot of the clutter and material things I have accumulated over the years. Step one is to let the things of this world go. Don't let the pursuit of the unnecessary interfere with your spiritual development.

Step two is to take the time to appreciate the things you have been given. Take a look at it and ask yourself if it contributes to the quality of your faith and life, or if it interferes. If the latter, you might want to consider getting rid of it.

Finally, embrace your stewardship of what you have been given. God has entrusted you with the things you possess in order to give him glory; that is, for people to see his work in your life. Take care of your home, your community, your world. Consider the People for whom you have responsibility, the Property you have been entrusted, and make Plans for their future. You will find when you focus on stewardship of these things instead of the excesses that attract, you life will be much richer.

Monday, February 23, 2015

You Can Make a Difference in the World

1 Peter 3:18-22 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits — to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.

Today appears to be filled with insurmountable problems: We have an earth that hangs in a delicate balance against progress and technology. We have a population of frightened and frightening people... sometimes both at the same time... who wail against the winds of change. We see inequality, slavery, slaying of innocents, and simple hatred tearing the world apart.

And just at the time when we need it least, we have misinformation, lies and ill-informed opinions spreading across humanity on the internet and news media. People who value their freedom to say whatever they choose more than taking the time to be informed. They opine before they reflect, they respond before they accept responsibility.

In the face of this modern world of terror, it seems too much for any of us to handle as individuals. And it is true: while a terrorist can accomplish horrifying goals in a single act, those who embrace peace, responsibility, and goodness can't seem to counter acts of terror with acts of goodwill. The impact of good deeds do not seem to make the same impact upon humanity.

In the Christian calendar, it is now the season of Lent; a time of reflection prior to the sorrow and celebration of the Easter message. A single voice espousing peace through a relationship with God was put to death thousands of years ago. And yet here we are, two thousand years later, wrestling with the question "Who was Jesus, and what does that mean for us today?"

The apostle Peter tried to answer that question as simply and directly as he could. He tells us that that no matter what our background or inclination, righteous or unrighteous, Jesus Christ was both put to death AND resurrected for the purpose of clearing our conscience toward God. He refers to the patience God exercised waiting for the Ark of Noah so that he could save eight people. But just as God was patient to save eight through the waters of the flood, He continues to wait for all of us to come on board.

Symbolically, water cleanses and removes the dirt. Peter likens the Resurrection of Jesus as a similar event to the story of the flood. Through this selfless act of sacrifice, Christ made the largest impact on humanity of all; far greater than anything we humans can conceive or enact. But in so doing, he also invites us to join him and stand before God in similar righteousness. The dirt of our lives (the things that steal away our confidence to stand before God free of guilt and sin), is now washed away.

When we take him up on the offer, we join together with a force that can accomplish the impossible. Though evil people still exist in our world, their machinations of death and destruction are rendered useless. No amount of coercion can separate our hearts from the truth that God is greater than any problem we face. He gives us the power to overcome even beyond death.

What passions do you have to impact the world? Do you seek to find solutions to any earthly problems? Have you felt too small to have a significant impact? Peter wants us to understand that is exactly why Jesus came; to give us the power to attempt great things.

Who is Jesus, and what does that mean for us today? Jesus came to us and remains with us for the simple purpose to cleanse our hearts, so we can stand before God. You can make a difference, and win.