Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Unjust Hunger

200 campers at Bible Camp learned a powerful lesson tonight. I did as well. We had a little experiential education at dinner in an attempt to teach the campers that we in the United States are among the richest 10% of the world's population. The 200 were divided into five equal groups differentiated by a color sticker. The orange group was allowed to eat all they wanted at dinner. The red group was allowed to eat a smaller portion of everything and no dessert. The blue group got only rice, a dinner roll, lettuce and dressing. The green group received only rice, a roll and water. The yellow group was given only rice and water. Oh boy, you should have heard the cheers and groans. Really, this is an important lesson that all Americans should experience since every 3.6 seconds a person dies of hunger, the majority of those being children.

But I learned something about hunger tonight that the campers might have missed. Now remember the groups were divided equally, but in actuality it didn't work out that way. As I stood and watched the campers come up for food there was easily three campers with orange stickers for every one camper with yellow. I don't know how they did it but many of the campers cheated to make sure they got as much food as they wanted. Lesson: if you are friends with someone "in the know" or someone who has connections you did great because you got you the sticker you wanted. But, if you didn't have such a connection with someone "in power" you were stuck with the sticker you were dealt. Dog eat dog.

It works that way globally as well. If you have connections with those who are powerful and rich you do just fine. Can you believe that for about half of what Americans spend on pet supplies a year we could put an end to hunger areas of severe famine? I guess a lot of us have connections with those who are rich and powerful cause we do just fine. Even though there is an abundance of money and food in the world people in power continue to cheat the system to make sure they have more than the rest.

In Revelation the "black horsemen" reveals a truth about our sinful world by describing such unjust famine. People are starving, not because there's not enough food, but because people cheat the system so food is distributed unfairly. "I looked and there was a black horse! Its rider held a pair of scales in his hand, and I heard what seemed to be a voice in the midst of the four living creatures saying. 'A quart of wheat for a day's pay, and three quarts of barley for a day's pay, but do not damage the olive oil and wine (Rev. 6:5b-6).'" Those with little must pay a day's wages to get enough food for only one person. Those who are rich, the ones who use olive oil and wine, are unharmed. This is not a vision of the future as much as it is a commentary of the way sinful life has always been, certainly is today, and will continue to be until the Kingdom of God is fully realized.

In the Kingdom of God no one goes hungry. As disciples of Christ, agents for his Kingdom, we are called to live that vision right now. It should be the priority of every Christian to fight hunger locally, nationally and globally. It is an abomination that children of God continue to starve to death every 3.6 seconds.

Fight world hunger right now by supporting organizations like Bread for the Word (, World Vision (, Church World Service (, CARE (, or Lutheran World Relief (

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Top 7 Memories of Bible Camp

It's the time of year for Bible Camp. These are my top 7 memories:

7. "Puff the Magic Dragon"
Yes, we sang "Kumbaya" but what sticks in my mind from Bible Camp when I was a kid was singing about that old rascal Puff. I still can't understand why.

6. Hidden Yellow Jackets Nest
In 2001, as a group of us was walking up a trial at dusk, one after another campers cried out "Ouch!" as we stomped on a hidden nest of yellow jackets. Of course I had to become a victim that evening as well. Thankfully, everyone was fine.

5. Oatmeal
You can tell how good a camp's food will be by the way they prepare oatmeal. If they do oatmeal well your in for good stuff all week... if its uneatable... welcome to fat camp because you won't want to eat much all week. At one camp they had a song for oatmeal: "Oaaaatmeal; some like butter. Oaaaatmeal; some like sugar..." I still sing that one to my kids.

4. College-Age Counselors
Yes, sometimes they bring a little modern-day drama with them, but just about always the camp counselors, usually between 18 and 22 years-old, are wonderful witnesses of faith for younger youth. The seeds they sow in the hearts of young people have bore much fruit for Christ.

3. An Eight-Day-Old Camper
In 2004 my wife brought our eight-day old newborn to camp for an afternoon. He still is, unofficially, the youngest person ever to go to Bible Camp.

2. "Sanctuary"
I learned this song at Bible Camp. It always reminds me of God's grace, the blessings of nature, friends, and times of Sabbath... all of which allows me to become a better vessel for God's presence within me.

1. Tearful Goodbyes
You cannot tell me of any other place where adolescents can worship God no less than four times a day, have no access to any modern media, talk about Jesus with others and still feel horrible about leaving when it's over. God created us to desire him and long for healthy friendships. Those are the centerpieces of camp ministry. It's only natural that youth would want to stay.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Truly I Tell You, None of These Will Lose Their Reward

The past couple weeks large areas of the state's of Iowa and Wisconsin have been hit by severe floods. I was born in Wisconsin, and have many friends and family there, and lived in Iowa for four years during the 1990's. It saddens me to see so many who have lost their homes and even lives because of these storms.

This past week I went for a walk along a country road and remembered something about my friends from Iowa. As a car approached me at around 50 miles-per-hour the driver waved at me. Rarely in my walks in suburban Chicago has anyone ever waved at me. But out here, in the country, I got waved at, even as the man drove by so quickly.

When I lived in Iowa a friend of mine, a lifelong Iowan, taught me that whenever you approach a car along a deserted stretch of highway you give a little flick of your finger (No, not that finger! Your pointing finger). It's not quite a wave but still an acknowledgement that says "Hi, nice to see you, have a great day." Over and over during a drive in the country you give that little flick of a finger and receive a greeting back. I thought it was nice. It seemed so civil and friendly.

But what touched me most when I lived in Iowa was the way people responded in 1997 when the Red River flooded in Grand Forks, North Dakota. 70% of that river town was flooded. With little haste churches throughout Sioux City, Iowa collected enough goods to fill a tracker trailer truck full of supplies for the stricken area. They didn't hesitate to help people in need. So when I think of Iowa I never think of corn, pigs, or politics first... but the generous and hospitable people who call that beautiful state home. When Jesus speaks of the struggles and rewards of discipleship in Matthew 10... "whoever gives gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple - truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward (Matthew 10:42)" I must think of the people of Iowa.

Now they need our help. Many charities have been on the scene giving aid and providing shelter. In Cedar Rapids the Salvation Army has provided meals to over 47,000 people. Other charities are on the scene as well. I highly recommend supporting the American Red Cross or ELCA Domestic Disaster Response... a charity that uses over 95% of the money they receive to help victims. They will remain on the scene for many months to come. Gifts can be given to ELCA Disaster Response, earmarked for tornado and flood disasters, to P.O. Box 71764, Chicago, IL 60694-1764. Also Lutheran Services in Iowa is receiving donations. Lutheran Services in Iowa, ATTN: Disaster Response, PO Box 848, Waverly, IA 60677.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

His Time is Short

I've been leading a Bible study on the Book of Revelation the past couple months. It has been so much fun. Often ignored are the many images within Revelation pure grace for all creation. One of my favorite examples of that comes in Revelation 7:9-10: "After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out with a loud voice: 'Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.'" What a powerful image of salvation.

But of course Revelation is also filled with images of war, destruction and death. One of the most miserable comes in Revelation 9... the description of scorpion-like locusts coming from the Abyss to torture for five months those who are not sealed. "They had tails with stingers, like scorpions, and in their tails they had power to torment people for five months (9:10)." The sixth trumpet, also called the second woe, gives another ghastly imagine of an army of mounted troops numbering 200,000,000 coming from the east and killing 1/3 of all people.

None of that really scared me though. (I must be heartless.) But something has struck a cord with me now that we've reached the dragon of Revelation 12: the chapter in which John the Seer allegorically describes the birth, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ as a battle between good and evil. A dragon (Satan) wants to kill a woman's (Israel's) child , but the child (Christ) is snatched away (ascension) before he can be killed. A war is waged in heaven and the dragon is defeated (the cross). Through the cross Jesus defeats sin and death forever. The Kingdom of God is at hand. However, sin and death still exist. The dragon lives on, here on earth, causing pain and bringing death... but his time is limited: "He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short (12:12b)."

For some reason this image has scared me. I had a dream about it last night. In plain English we know that we have been saved through Jesus' death on the cross and our faith in him. We also know that we still live in a world where sin and death are present. The way John describes it: evil, personified by the devil, symbolized by the dragon is still on the loose. The devil knows his time is short and is looking to cause as much pain as he can before the Kingdom of God is fully realized on earth.

Like Kathy Bates in the movie Misery... just when you think the devil is defeated, dead and gone, her eyes open and she comes screaming into scene with hellfire on her breath, a knife in her hand and hate in her heart. Until Christ returns and puts that final bullet into the chest of sin and death we still live with the specter of evil surrounding us. Therefore, today "the devil" works to pull us away from faith, foil our plans, dash our hopes, and convince us he is the victor. Through his use of allegory John is explaining why the church of the late first century struggled through persecutions. But naturally, like all of Scripture, Revelation also helps us understand why our own time continues to be painful, especially for those who have faith.

What John writes poetically is really no different than what Paul writes in Romans 8: "I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed to us (Romans 8:18)." Paul ends that chapter with a message of hope in the face of "the dragon's" continued persecution. "For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, [nor the dragon, nor the devil, nor Satan,] nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39... additions are mine)."

Revelation is going the same direction as Paul goes in Romans. God has given John the Seer a vision of hope and encouragement. Yes John is exiled by the Romans to Patmos. Yes John's brothers and sisters in Christ are being persecuted, arrested and one has even been killed for the faith. But there is hope. This is going to end up being very good! The Kingdom of God is at hand. The time is short for sin and death. Jesus, the Messiah, the Lamb of God has conquered and will welcome "a great multitude" to sing his praises before him in the coming Kingdom.

So sleep well. Persevere. Feel the hand of God upon you this very day!

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Taking Time to Hear

I don't know if the term "multitasking" was born in the modern era, but if it wasn't, our modern world sure has taken the idea of doing too many things at one time to the extreme. E-mail, cell phones, text messaging and computers are supposed to exist to help us get through the busyness of our world, but instead they tend to make our lives all the more chaotic. To be good at multitasking means being good at prioritizing... knowing what has to be done now and what can wait. It's the only way we survive this crazy world.

Centuries before the multitasking choices faced by modern people Luke retells a story in his Gospel about Jesus being invited into the home of a woman named Martha. Her sister Mary is also there and sits herself at the feet of Jesus listening intently to every word he says. Martha, following first century custom, is busy making preparations to do all that is necessary to make a guest feel welcome in her home. She is frustrated that Mary is not helping her. After all there is much to be done and a woman's place in a first century home was to do work, not only for guests, but for any male in the home. Martha pushes Jesus to "Tell her to help me."

Surprisingly to Martha, Jesus instead lifts up Mary as being the proper example of doing what is right. Listening to Jesus must be the number one priority and not any other work. Everything society had taught Martha told her that she was in the right, but Jesus points out that even society can be wrong. The number one priority for men and women is to listen to the Word of God. Everything else, even honorable tasks, must come second.

In 2008, when we face daily the difficult task of setting priorities because so much is expected of us, it is tempting allow listening to the Word to slide. There are more pressing matters. There are priorities society has set that are far more important than sitting and listening for God, either in worship, prayer, or both. Like Martha we are convinced we are doing the right thing and that even Jesus would agree.

But Jesus doesn't agree. Instead he offers us grace and rest. Go ahead and take a load off. Don't beat yourself up when you do the opposite of what society says and actually dare to make taking time to listen to God... to worship... to study... to mediate the number one priority of your life. The blessing you receive "will not be taken away (Luke 10:42)."