Meditation on My Back Deck… “in thy light we see light”

I was sitting on my deck the other morning as the sun was just coming up over my neighbor’s house.  I noticed its rays shone at such an angle that I could see a whole new world of single-strand cobwebs running from the deck chairs to the deck itself, from the deck to the trees, and from branch to branch among the trees. It looked like a system of super highways that was built over night. I had never noticed them before nor did I see them any longer after the sun had risen to another angle. My point is that I would not have seen them at all unless the sun was shining just right.

While you could call this a “Meditation on the Back Deck,” CS Lewis wrote a more perceptive essay  on the same topic called “Meditation in a Tool Shed.”

I was standing today in a dark toolshed. The sun was shining outside and through the crack at the top of the door there came a sunbeam. From where I stood that beam of light, with specs of dust floating in it, was the most striking thing in the place. Everything else was almost pitch-black. I was seeing the beam, not seeing things by it.

Then I moved, so that the beam fell on my eyes. Instantly the whole previous picture vanished. I saw no toolshed, and (above all) no beam. Instead I saw, framed in the irregular cranny at the top of the door, green leaves moving on the branches of a tree moving outside and beyond that, ninety-odd millions of miles away, the sun. Looking along the beam, and looking at the beam are very different experience.

Psalm 36:9 reads “For with Thee is the fountain of life; in Thy light we see light.” (NASB) It is interesting that Columbia University (NYC) has this for its logo In Lumine Tuo Videbimus Lumen, “In thy light we see light.” At one time Columbia (as so many colleges) was founded upon the conviction that God’s Word formed the very basis of understanding the world and therefore of all knowledge. In fact the seal of the university depicts a woman seated on a throne holding an open Bible in her right hand bearing the inscription Logia Zonta, “The Words of Life.”

Things have changed quite a bit at Columbia U over the years, but what remains the same is what we read in Psalm 36:9 that God is not only the source of life but His truth forms the basis of understanding the world and is the context for knowledge.

Jesus said “I am the light of the world: he that follows me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” John 8:12  In the context, the Pharisees were in the toolshed of unbelief. They saw the Light and even saw some pretty miraculous things by it, but most of them did not step into it to believe and follow.

Stepping into the light of following Christ means that we will see things differently. It is a life of wisdom and discernment not governed by the way our culture thinks but by the truth of God’s Word spoken in Scripture and embodied by the Word which became flesh and dwelt among us. In other words, we have a different core from which our thinking starts. We may come to a similar conclusion (or not) as our culture, but for reasons that flow from having the “Light of the world” at our core.

I marvel at all the protests and cultural movements that I have seen impact society in my lifetime:  the Civil Rights movement, the Anti-war movement during Viet Nam, the Women’s Liberation movement, Black Power movement, Black Lives Matter, Free Love movement, Gay Rights movement, Anti-nuke movement, Pro-choice and Pro-Life movements, Occupy Wall Street movement, Social Justice movement, #MeTo movement, to name just a few. These movements have always pushed me beyond my comfort zone and challenged me as a citizen, a Christian and a pastor.  I always wanted to understand the truth in each movement and the issues raised and not merely reacting against the movement because of the politics of its advocates nor adopting a position of support just because it was consistent with my own political views.

Invariably, as I looked at these issues in the light of God’s truth the first thing I saw was my own sin and need for repentance. I saw how I had failed by omission or commission to live according to the light of God’s truth in a lot of these areas that were being pointed out by these cultural movements. I had become a part of a system that helped create an injustice that was being pointed out by protest. In other words, I needed to deal with my own sin and complicity before I could speak to the hypocrisy and double standard of my culture.

For example, how do I respond to the #MeTo movement? I honor and respect women as equals before God not because of the movement, but because I live in the light of God’s truth spoken by Scripture and lived out by Jesus in his relationship with women. However I also recognize my own flawed heart and repent of the times I’ve objectified women and failed to be sensitive to how other men talked about women more as conquests than as people. I have also failed to see the brokenness of those women who have suffered sexual abuse and predatorial fears since childhood, and the prevalence of sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace. It is the oppression of the powerful against the powerless, much like what is mentioned in the Bible about the oppression of widows and orphans by the rich. The light of God’s truth helps me to see this.

Yet, the light of God’s truth also enables me to see the hypocrisy of our society that in all of its protests it still seems to be driven more by power and wealth than by justice and equality; more about winners and losers than healing, more about revenge than forgiveness, more about getting ahead by destroying others. Why is there no movement to put an end to any media advertising that objectifies and uses women in sexual or suggestive ways in order to sell products? We did it for smoking, why not for this? To prevent cancer is important, but to prevent the moral cancer of our cultural soul is even more a priority.

In keeping with this, why can’t we prosecute the purveyors of pornography? Is it really “free speech” or “artistic expression” protected by the First Amendment? Most thinking people will agree that pornography is obscene and is not in keeping with any community’s standards. But then our toolshed culture argues about the very definitions of obscene and prurient. At the same time prostitution is still against the law in most places. I’m not advocating for its legalization but is this not a double standard? Some say that pornography is victimless and actually cuts down on rape and unwanted sexual advances in our society. Oh really? If you think that porno has not had an impact on the lives of the sexual abusers that have been exposed and deposed by the #MeTo movement, then you are living in a dark toolshed indeed!

There is also the double standard of those in Hollywood and the entertainment industry  who are the most outspoken supporters of the #MeTo movement.  It seems like these very same celebrities are oblivious to the fact that the movies they make and the clothes they wear at the Emmy’s continue the culture of objectification and violence against women.

We may live in this toolshed culture but we do not need to live in its’ darkness. “In your light, we see light.” God’s light enables me to see the need for repentance and owning up to my sin. God’s light also helps me to see the sin and hypocrisy of my culture so I can be a part of the solution to the very issues raised. We have stepped into the light, let us live like it!


A New Look at Esther

The Book of Esther is one of the most intriguing books in the Bible. It has all the makings of  a Father Brown mystery on PBS. The story takes place in Persia during the 5th century BC and gives a picture of the Israelites who were still in Captivity and did not choose to return to Jerusalem under Ezra or Nehemiah. Esther, a Jew, became queen of the empire and her cousin Mordecai the prime minister, and together they saved their people from the terrible Haman, a Persian official who wanted to eradicate the Jewish minority.

The book shows the Providence of God; his sovereign and faithful care over his covenant people. It is readily acknowledged that although the name of God is never mentioned, his fingerprints are all over this mystery, using human instruments to  accomplish his purpose. My new look at the book still holds to the main theme of God’s Providence, but it reveals a different take on why the name of God is never mentioned. I arrived at this because I am reading the Bible through again and just finished Ezra and Nehemiah.

The events in Esther occur roughly between those of Ezra and Nehemiah. If you compare them, you will soon notice that the Jews back in Jerusalem under the godly leadership of  Ezra and Nehemiah were always being led to pray, repent, and strive to make God’s Law the center of their lives. This God-centeredness was also demonstrated in the lives of Daniel and his three friends, who were Jewish captives under the Babylonians and who rose to prominence under pagan leadership. Yet, they remained faithful to God’s Law and never gave up the privilege of prayer.

In Esther, however, you see a Jewish people who were holding onto their Jewish cultural identity, but who no longer had God at the center of their lives. There was no apparent interest in God’s Law, no concern about the condition of Jerusalem or of the Temple, no response of repentance or prayer in the face of persecution. Mordecai’s counsel, Esther’s appearance before the king, and the plan that Esther and Mordecai hatched to do away with Haaman were all accomplished without any conscious reference to God or dependence upon his power or strength.

Esther certainly demonstrated courage, but her “If I perish, I perish “differs greatly from Nehemiah’s “But now, O God, strengthen my hands.”  Thus could it be that the name of God was never mentioned in the book because the people of God had forgotten God; lost sight of living for his glory, obeying him, and seeking his guidance and direction?  They had hunkered down in a pagan culture and instead of influencing the culture for God’s glory, they were more concerned with their own self-preservation and power.

I apply this in two ways: 1) God’s covenant faithfulness for his people, using political circumstances to work out his purposes for them, continues even though his people forget him and move him to the periphery of their lives; 2) Is God mentioned in my life? This last application is a convicting one to me. Do I make it through the day in my own wisdom or do I pray for God’s guidance and direction?

It came to me the other day that while I prayed for wisdom in the process of selecting a new car, I never asked the Lord whether I should have one in the first place. I know that it is not in a man (or woman) to determine the course of his life, so why do I live as if it is? It may surprise you how God led me in this.

I have a dear friend (Richard Burr) who has a ministry of prayer called PRAY THINK ACT. When he started the ministry I always mixed up the title and said THINK PRAY ACT. It was funny but unfortunately it said a lot about me. I have a tendency to think first, pray later, and then act, hoping that God would bless what I have done. I see growth in my life in this area, but more is needed.  I would like not only to demonstrate the courage of Esther, but also the God-centered prayer life of Daniel. I want to be a man who prays as a first response and not as a last resort.






The Children’s Bible in a Nutshell


This could very well be the way some child began to understand the Bible. You will find it humorous because (thankfully) your understanding has grown:

“In the beginning, which occurred near the start, there was nothing but God, darkness, and some gas.  The Bible says, ‘The Lord thy God is one,’but I think He must be a lot older than that.

Anyway, God said, ‘Give me a light!’ and someone did. Then God made the world.

He split the Adam and made Eve.  Adam and Eve were naked, but they weren’t embarrassed because mirrors hadn’t been invented yet.

Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating one bad apple, so they were driven from the Garden of Eden…..Not sure what they were driven in though, because they didn’t have cars.

Adam and Eve had a son, Cain, who hated his brother as long as he was Abel.

Pretty soon all of the early people died off, except for Methuselah, who lived to be like a million or something.

One of the next important people was Noah, who was a good guy, but one of his kids was kind of a Ham.  Noah built a large boat and put his family and some animals on it. He asked some other people to join him, but they said they would have to take a rain check.

After Noah came Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Jacob was more famous than his brother, Esau, because Esau sold Jacob his birthmark in exchange for some pot roast.  Jacob had a son named Joseph who wore a really loud sports coat.

Another important Bible guy is Moses, whose real name was Charlton Heston.  Moses led the Israel Lights out of  Egypt and away from the evil Pharaoh after God sent ten plagues on Pharaoh’s people.  These plagues included frogs, mice, lice, bowels, and no cable. God fed the Israel Lights every day with manicotti.  Then he gave them His Top Ten Commandments. These include: don’t lie, cheat, smoke, dance, or covet your neighbor’s stuff.

Oh, yeah, I just thought of one more:’Humor thy father and thy mother.’

One of Moses’ best helpers was Joshua who was the first Bible guy to use spies.  Joshua fought the battle of Geritol and the fence fell over on the town.

After Joshua came David.  He got to be king by killing a giant with a slingshot.  He had a son named Solomon who had about 300 wives and 500 porcupines.  My teacher says he was wise, but that doesn’t sound very wise to me.

After Solomon there were a bunch of major league prophets.  One of these was Jonah, who was swallowed by a big whale and then barfed up on the shore.

There were also some minor league prophets, but I guess we don’t have to worry about them.

After the Old Testament came the New Testament.  Jesus is the star of The New.  He was born in Bethlehem in a barn. (I wish I had been born in a barn too, because my mom is always saying to me, ‘Close the door! Were you born in a barn?’ It would be nice to say, ‘As a matter of fact, I was.’)

During His life, Jesus had many arguments with sinners like the Pharisees and the Democrats.

Jesus also had twelve opossums. The worst one was Judas Asparagus.  Judas was so evil that they named a terrible vegetable after him.

Jesus was a great man.  He healed many leopards and even preached to some Germans on the Mount.

But the Democrats and all those guys put Jesus on trial before Pontius the Pilot.  Pilot didn’t stick up for Jesus.  He just washed his hands instead.

Anyways, Jesus died for our sins, then came back to life again.  He went up to Heaven but will be back at the end of the Aluminium.  His return is foretold in the book of Revolution.”



Lessons from Strange Scripture…

Last week we looked at a very strange passage in 2 Kings 8:7-15. This text is loaded with lessons for contemporary readers. Let’s look at a few of them: First, we are reminded that God is sovereign and omniscient and is the “Revealer of Secrets.” (Daniel 2:47) He knows everything that will take place as well as those things that could have been. God is never caught off guard by circumstances. Whenever I find myself wishing that things had turned out differently, I must remember that God knows exactly why things turned out the way they did and what would have resulted if they didn’t. It is obvious that we had best entrust our past as well as our future to God’s hands rather than living in the twilight zone of “if onlys” and “might have beens.”

Second, the passage reminds us that God knows the heart of every single human being who has ever walked the face of this earth. He knows your heart and mine. “When I sit down, when I rise up; you perceive my thoughts from afar; you discern my going out and my coming in and are familiar with all my ways; even before a word is on my tongue you know it completely.” Ps. 139:1-4 He is the Revealer of the secrets of the human heart. He knows what you watch; he knows what you think about when no one else does; he knows your secret life- ambitions, desires, mask, camouflage, etc. There are no secrets with him. It is time to come clean even about those things that happened years ago. 

Finally, this passage reminds us of one of the most terrifying truths of the Word of God: Our sin merits God’s wrath. The anointing of Hazael as king of Syria set into motion a series of events that manifest God’s wrath on His disobedient people. In the final chapters of the Book of Deuteronomy (chapters 28-32), Moses warned the Israelites of the judgments that would come upon them if they disregarded God and disobeyed His commandments. During the days of Elijah and Elisha, God brought various forms of adversity upon the Northern Kingdom of Israel to get their attention and to turn them from their sins. He brought various droughts and famines, as well as attacks and sieges from the armies of surrounding nations. In spite of all these warnings and opportunities for repentance, Israel persisted in her sin. Though God had patiently warned His people of the consequences of their sin, they ignored His rebuke. Finally, payday arrived.

As I recall, it was Robert G. Lee, one of the great preachers of a bygone era, who delivered the famous sermon, “Payday Someday.” Certainly we must acknowledge that it was now payday for Israel. Time after time, God had sought to get Israel’s attention, but no evidence of any real and lasting repentance was ever found. Could it be that God is warning some of you of your need to repent and turn to him lest you face payday for your sin. You may be able to hide your secrets for awhile, but they will be revealed. Just look at all the famous people and politicians whose house of cards collapsed around the revelation of some dark secret long past. 

Now is the time of repentance. You may pay a great price for coming clean, but with God there will always be refuge and forgiveness for you. That refuge and place of safety is Jesus Christ, the Man of Sorrows– see him on the cross, see him writhe with pain, for you- dying for your secrets. 

Bearing shame and scoffing rude, in my place condemned he stood- sealed my pardon with his blood Hallelujah, what a Savior!

Guilty, vile and helpless we, spotless lamb of God was he – Full atonement can it be. Hallelujah, what a Savior!

A Strange Scripture…

There is a very strange passage of the Bible found in 2 Kings 8:7-15 in which are hidden some very important lessons. The king of Syria sent his messenger, Hazael, with abundant gifts—40 camel loads of gifts and instructed Hazael to ask the prophet Elisha a very important question. Hazael was the servant of Ben Hadad, the king of Syria- not an Israelite or worshiper of Yahweh, but one who respected the prophet of God. He wanted to know “Will I recover from this sickness?” It is Elisha’s strange answer to that question that perplexes some readers.

He told Hazael. “Go and tell him (King Ben Hadad), ‘You will surely recover,’ but the LORD has revealed to me that he will surely die” (verse 10). Here is the first issue: Was Elijah guilty of lying? Why, then, did he send the King of Syria the message that he would recover, while he went on to tell Hazael that the king would die? Sounds like a lie to me. But wait; the king’s question was very specific: “Will I recover from this sickness?” Elisha’s answer was specific as well: “Yes!” As you read on you will see that Ben Hadad did not die of his present malady, but was murdered by that very servant, Hazael, who suffocated him. (Sounds like an Alfred Hitchcock episode.)  Thus Elisha’s words were completely true; he did not lie to the king, but neither did he inform the king concerning all that was going to happen.

This brings up another issue. Did Elisha put the idea of murdering the king into the mind of Hazael? As we already mentioned, Elisha gave Hazael a very specific answer to convey to the king and he also informed Hazael that the king was going to die. However (and this is important), Elisha did not reveal to Hazael how that would happen. He did not say, “And Hazael, you are going to suffocate him with a wet towel.” Instead the text says that Elisha stared into the eyes of Hazael until he could no longer look at the prophet. That must have been an amazing scene- what was going on here? We are not told the specifics, but I think it is safe to say that Hazael felt that Elisha was looking deep into his soul. I think he recognized that Elisha knew that he had already decided to kill the king. The secret thoughts of Hazael’s heart were surely known to God, and I believe to Elisha as well. No wonder he could no longer look at the prophet. As a number of translations render it, he was too ashamed to do so. 

What an unusual experience this must have been for Hazael! To know that he had a secret and then to realize that in the prophet’s gaze someone else knew that secret. He must have felt like Judas in the upper room, when Jesus made it clear to him that He knew what he was about to do. And then, at the very moment when Hazael probably wanted to run from the presence of the prophet, Elisha began to cry. Hazael was mystified. “Why are you weeping?” Elisha told Hazael that he knew the terrible things he would do to the people of Israel. He would not only prevail over Israel in battle, but he would destroy places and people with savagery. He would burn down fortresses, kill men with the sword, smash children to bits, and rip open pregnant women (verse 12).

This prophet greatly agonizes over the suffering that was to come upon the people of Israel, because of their sins. There was no question in the prophet’s mind that Israel deserved what was coming after all of God’s warnings and discipline. However, the realization that the time for judgment had come caused Elisha great sorrow. Hazael responded to Elisha’s prophecy by saying, “How could your servant — a mere dog (an unimportant man), accomplish such a great feat?” And Elisha answered, “The LORD has shown me that you will become king over Syria”

Next week… some principles gleaned from this passage.

“Promiscuous” Grace

Once there was a potato farmer in Blackfoot, Idaho who desperately needed additional workers to get his crop harvested and to the market by 6 pm. So he hired a bunch of day workers and promised to pay them a wage of $180 for 12 hrs of work. The workers were glad to have the opportunity to work so they agreed. They started work at 6 am. It soon became obvious to the farmer that he needed more help in order to make the deadline, so he went into town and drove by the Unemployment Office where he saw guys just standing around.

“If you want to work for a fair wage, I could use you right now.” They agreed and jumped in his truck and went into his fields. They began at 9 am. The farmer saw that he needed additional help and made two more trips into town to collect workers. One group started at 12 noon and the other at 3 pm. On an errand, the farmer drove by some more men just standing around. He pulled up in his truck and said, “Why aren’t you guys working?” They replied, “No one has hired us.” “I’ll hire you to help me finish picking my crop. Hop in the truck.” They started work at 5 pm.

When the whistle blew at 6 pm, all the potatoes were picked, washed, loaded, and on the way to a potato chip company in Pennsylvania. The farmer gathered all his hired help so he could pay them. He started with the guys who began work at 5 pm and gave them $180 each. The he went to the ones who started at 3 pm and gave them each $180; those who began at noon, $180; and those who started at 9 am, $180. He finally came to those he originally hired at 6 am. What do you think they expected? He gave them $180.

As they looked at their money one of them complained, “You paid these guys who started last and worked the least just as much as us- who started first and have worked the longest. It’s just not fair!”

“My friend, how much did I promise to pay you? And how much did I pay you? Don’t I have the right to be generous with whomever I choose- after all, it is my money. Are you jealous of these others because of my generosity?” (A direct quote, Matt. 20:15)

These men overlooked the generosity that had been shown to them because they were so focused on the generosity of the farmer towards those they considered less deserving. It was the same attitude depicted by the elder brother at the grace and mercy shown by his father towards the prodigal son.

I remember a dream that I had a couple of years ago. I think I had it because of a sermon series that I was preaching at my church. The dream was so vivid that I wrote it down. It was about an old man named Joe who shared with me his life story. He told me that when he was young he was a member of a violent gang; his alias was Joey the Fang. He told me about his crimes including rape and murder. He then related how he had heard the gospel and came to Christ and received God’s grace and mercy of forgiveness. I remember that instead of being happy I remember feeling anger and hatred towards him and felt like punching him out. And then I woke up and marveled that my reaction was so much like the Pharisees and the elder brother.

It is only in Christianity that we have this tendency towards “unfairness” because God is gracious, and no one is beyond forgiveness. In fact, God’s grace is so amazing that it can seem downright scandalous to our limited human sensitivities. The Puritans often called God’s grace “promiscuous,” because it was so indiscriminately given to those that least deserved it.

I wonder if some 18th century African Christians questioned the conversion of the old slave trader, John Newton; or perhaps some early Christians had been scandalized because Paul wasn’t punished for his crimes against the church. We are scandalized by God’s amazing grace until we become the objects of that grace. The workers hired at 6 am thought the farmer’s generosity unfair. Those hired at 5 pm were amazed by it!

I hope we have not only personally experienced God’s grace in the gospel, but that this grace has gone down so deep into our hearts that we have become “gracists” (coined by Pastor Dave Anderson). A gracist is someone who has been so overwhelmed by the amazing grace of God in his/her own life that they rejoice when any prodigal comes home. It is the gracist who can say along with Paul, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst.” (1 Tim. 1:15)

Somebody, Dim the Lights!

This morning I am thinking about the Ferguson situation as we await the decision of the Grand Jury whether or not to indict police officer Darren Wilson for shooting a black teenager, Michael Brown; a decision that will be explosive either way because of the racial divide that still exists in this country. I am also thinking about the killing of 4 Rabbis (and a police officer) in an East Jerusalem synagogue by Palestinians; the attackers were killed and families were evicted while their homes destroyed by the Israeli authorities in retribution. I am also thinking of the car bomb that went off in Irbil, N. Iraq where my son is working, killing 5 and injuring dozens; an act which continues the sad and violent generational conflict between Sunni and Shia.

In the face of these and the grudge matches we carry out in our own lives, we read these very arresting words flowing from the lips of our Lord and Master: “Ye have heard that it has been said, ‘Thou shall love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy.’ But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 5:43-45).

I would like to share with you some great insights on the subject of revenge from a sermon preached by Martin Luther King at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama, on 17 November, 1957.The title of the message was Love Your Enemies:

“It’s not only necessary to know how to go about loving your enemies, but also to go down into the question of why we should love our enemies. I think the first reason that we should love our enemies, and I think this was at the very center of Jesus’ thinking, is this: that hate for hate only intensifies the existence of hate and evil in the universe. If I hit you and you hit me and I hit you back and you hit me back and go on, you see, that goes on ad infinitum. [tapping on pulpit] It just never ends. Somewhere somebody must have a little sense, and that’s the strong person. The strong person is the person who can cut off the chain of hate, the chain of evil. And that is the tragedy of hate, that it doesn’t cut it off. It only intensifies the existence of hate and evil in the universe. Somebody must have religion enough and morality enough to cut it off and inject within the very structure of the universe that strong and powerful element of love.

I think I mentioned before that sometime ago my brother and I were driving one evening to Chattanooga, Tennessee, from Atlanta. He was driving the car. And for some reason the drivers were very discourteous that night. They didn’t dim their lights; hardly any driver that passed by dimmed his lights. And I remember very vividly, my brother A. D. looked over and in a tone of anger said: ‘I know what I’m going to do. The next car that comes along here and refuses to dim the lights, I’m going to fail to dim mine and pour them on in all of their power.’ And I looked at him right quick and said: ‘Oh no, don’t do that. There’d be too much light on this highway, and it will end up in mutual destruction for all. Somebody got to have some sense on this highway.’

Somebody must have sense enough to dim the lights, and that is the trouble, isn’t it? That as all of the civilizations of the world move up the highway of history, so many civilizations, having looked at other civilizations that refused to dim the lights, and they decided to refuse to dim theirs…. And if somebody doesn’t have sense enough to turn on the dim and beautiful and powerful lights of love in this world, the whole of our civilization will be plunged into the abyss of destruction. And we will all end up destroyed because nobody had any sense on the highway of history. Somewhere somebody must have some sense. Men must see that force begets force, hate begets hate, and toughness begets toughness. And it is all a descending spiral, ultimately ending in destruction for all and everybody. Somebody must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate and the chain of evil in the universe. And you do that by love.”

MLK concluded with the thought that gives me the greatest hope because the power of God is unleashed by our loving our enemies. “I think that Jesus says, ‘Love your enemies’ [because] that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals…. But if you love your enemies, you will discover that at the very root of love is the power of redemption. You just keep loving people and keep loving them, even though they’re mistreating you. Here’s the person who is a neighbor, and this person is doing something wrong to you and all of that. Just keep being friendly to that person. Keep loving them. Don’t do anything to embarrass them. Just keep loving them, and they can’t stand it too long. Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning. They react with bitterness because they’re mad because you love them like that. They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they’ll hate you a little more at that transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love they will break down under the load. That’s love, you see. It is redemptive, and this is why Jesus says love. There’s something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies.”


Just a Thought on Ferguson, Missouri

More than two months have passed since Officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri—setting off confrontations between (mostly African-American) residents and (mostly white) police, and sparking a national conversation about race. But the precise circumstances of what happened on that August afternoon remain murky. The key issue is whether Wilson fired in self-defense, as he told investigators, or whether he fired without sufficient provocation. There are witnesses on both sides. On Wednesday, new evidence emerged, according to a Washington Post investigation and an autopsy report from the county medical examiner. The evidence isn’t conclusive, but it lends more credence to Wilson’s version of events.

The cry for justice in Ferguson will not ultimately be answered to anyone’s satisfaction. Pre-judgement on both sides of the aisle will prevent true justice from taking place. The grand jury is expected to reach a conclusion on whether to indict Officer Wilson next month. But the decision may not settle the question of what actually happened. Quite possibly nothing ever will. Yet, whether we talk about Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Amadou Diallo or Rodney King, I realize that for me—a white, middle-class, old guy, race is merely a conversation. If I were black, it would take on a whole new meaning for me and my children and grandchildren.

There will be changes in the way the police do business in Ferguson, just as there were changes in Los Angeles after the King riots and changes in New York City after Amadou Diallo. However, we will never get it right. America will never get past the issue of race. It has been a part of the fabric of our nation since the Founding Fathers. As Alfred Doblin mused, “Maybe we are a nation with too much historical baggage and too many carpetbaggers to get to a place where the influx of black families doesn’t signal an exodus of white ones, or where an angry black man looks identical to an angry white man.”

In no way am I suggesting that we should not work for justice—heaven forbid; our world would totally implode. Working for justice is part of the very fabric of our Christian faith. Certainly we have made strides; we have an African-American president. But we should not be naive enough to think there is a magic bullet in our democratic system of government that will eradicate racism; after all it took five years into Obama’s presidency just to stop asking for his US birth certificate. We can make racism illegal, but we cannot legislate against the racist thoughts and intents of a sinful heart.

When Los Angeles burned in 1992 after the police officers who beat Rodney King were acquitted, the mobs chanted “No justice, no peace.” In Ephesians 2:14, Paul said “For he himself (Christ Jesus) is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing walls of hostility–that he might create one new man in place of two, so making peace.” Jesus Christ has broken down the separation between hopeless humanity and its Creator God through the cross. He has also broken down the walls of hostility between people groups. On paper, the Church should be the one place in which Jew and Gentile, black and white should live in reconciliation and peace. Sadly, this is not usually the case. The Bible has been used to kick the Baptists out of Massachusetts, burn some “witches” at the stake, justify slavery, and defend the Jim Crow laws of segregation in the south.

However, I have more hope that the Church will be transformed than I do that my country will change. I see places where the gospel is reaching across the barriers of race and culture to produce this new humanity of which Paul spoke. For me, it begins by extending the grace of God to others on the basis of our common inclusion into the family of God. It also motivates me to move toward people who are different than I am—not only in race and culture, but also towards the marginalized, giving a voice to those who have none. The same way God moved toward me and my Gentile race while we afar off, still in our sins, to bring us near, even into his very own family in Christ. (Eph. 2:19)

I dream of the day when the Church can say to a place like Ferguson, “look at the gospel; look at what it has done for us.” It is happening in heaven right now and so I will continue to pray, “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Disappointment with God…

imagesThen Moses turned to the Lord and said, “O Lord, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he (Pharaoh) has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all” (Ex. 5:22, 23).

Can’t you feel Moses’ disappointment and frustration? Do you remember a time when you felt like this—maybe even now? Perhaps it was a situation about which you earnestly prayed and things got worse and not better. I think that Christian leaders often fall prey to this disappointment when all our best-intentioned efforts and ministry to our people end up being misunderstood and creating more problems than they solve. We make the mistake, like Moses, of judging God at the beginning of the process and not by the big-picture vision of what he ultimately wants to accomplish in our people. We have so little information as to ways of an eternal, omniscient God. Perhaps that is why Moses later prayed “show me now your ways.” (Ex. 33:13)

Another principle that we need to learn is that the way to liberation is often through deeper bondage. That sounds strange, doesn’t it? However, how many times have we heard (or experienced) that a person needs to hit bottom before they start looking for help? Israel had not yet hit rock-bottom in their slavery. They thought they had options and had to learn to entrust themselves completely to the covenant-keeping God that Moses represented. Moses also needed to learn to trust in the Lord with all his heart if he was going to lead Israel out of oppression. “God is to be trusted when his providences seem to run contrary to his promises.” (Thomas Watson)

We cannot manage God; we must learn to trust him. He is our Father, who loves us and yet is also the sovereign God of the universe who is working out his redemptive process for us and the world. It is only by faith born of experience that we will learn to glory in the process and not judge God by a certain circumstance.

You fearful saints, fresh courage take; the clouds you so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break in blessings on your head.
Blind unbelief is sure to err and scan his work in vain:
God is his own interpreter, and he will make it plain.
(William Cowper, 1774)

“Why I Hope to Die at 75”

old-woman-1435250Ezekiel “Zeke” Emanuel recently wrote an interesting article in The Atlantic headlined, “Why I Hope to Die at 75.” It is worth the read especially if you are approaching 75 or have parents or grandparents that age. Emanuel is a doctor, bioethicist, and older brother of the mayor of Chicago.

His basic premise is that by 75 “creativity, originality, and productivity are pretty much gone for the vast, vast majority of us” we no longer leave behind a legacy of vibrancy and engagement, but of feebleness and frailty. Not only do we heap upon our children additional emotional and financial burdens, but we leave them and our grandkids with “memories framed not by our vivacity, but by our frailty.” He calls that “the ultimate tragedy.” Therefore, he does not wish to live beyond 75.

He does not advocate for euthanasia, but it is his plan (he is now 57) that if he lives to 75 he will not prolong his life. “At 75 and beyond, I will need a good reason to even visit the doctor and take any medical test or treatment, no matter how routine and painless. And that good reason is not ‘It will prolong your life.’ I will stop getting any regular preventive tests, screenings, or interventions. I will accept only palliative—not curative—treatments if I am suffering pain or other disability… This means colonoscopies and other cancer-screening tests are out—and before 75. If I were diagnosed with cancer now, at 57, I would probably be treated, unless the prognosis was very poor. But 65 will be my last colonoscopy. No screening for prostate cancer at any age… After 75, if I develop cancer, I will refuse treatment. Similarly, no cardiac stress test. No pacemaker and certainly no implantable defibrillator. No heart-valve replacement or bypass surgery. If I develop emphysema or some similar disease that involves frequent exacerbations that would, normally, land me in the hospital, I will accept treatment to ameliorate the discomfort caused by the feeling of suffocation, but will refuse to be hauled off… Flu shots are out… no to antibiotics… Obviously, a do-not-resuscitate order and a complete advance directive indicating no ventilators, dialysis, surgery, antibiotics, or any other medication—nothing except palliative care even if I am conscious but not mentally competent—have been written and recorded. In short, no life-sustaining interventions. I will die when whatever comes first takes me.”

While I agree with him about the American obsession with living forever, he falls off the other side of the saddle with his American obsession with control. He sees the 18 years that he has left (as if he is in charge) as a self-imposed deadline so that he can get done the important things in life before he begins his inevitable decline. He is also dismissive of any faith perspective that would be used to rebut his view. “I also think my view conjures up spiritual and existential reasons for people to scorn and reject it. Many of us have suppressed, actively or passively, thinking about God, heaven and hell, and whether we return to the worms. We are agnostics or atheists, or just don’t think about whether there is a God and why she should care at all about mere mortals.” He seems to make a life of faith seem more like a knee-jerk reaction to our mortality rather than well-intentioned choice in view of our creatureliness and frailty. He also completely overlooks the positive impact that our suffering can have in the development of our children and grandkids.

There is an arrogance embedded in this article which belies the name of the author; Ezekiel (means his strength is in God). The prophet was keenly aware of God’s presence and power in human affairs. He suffered captivity and the very death of his own wife, but prophesied a message of hope and reassurance for the people of Judah. There was one thing that the biblical Ezekiel knew for sure: God is in control and we must humble ourselves before him. And in this relationship of submission, humility, and trust regardless of life’s circumstances, we find our greatest usefulness.

“Lord, teach me to number my days that I might apply my heart to wisdom” (Ps. 90:12).