Monday, February 23, 2009

Giving Up

I ran across a few things surfing the web today about the Season of Lent. A Chicago Tribune columnist is asking readers to share with him their funny stories about giving something up for Lent. He gave examples of people giving up Facebook for the 40 day fast, a child giving up Playstation (but not X-Box), and a Saturday Night Live character giving up menthol cigarettes. Another site asked the question: Are you giving up beer for Lent?

I think there is value in giving something up for Lent. We are society of instant gratification. We can have pretty much anything we want... right this second. I could obtain a burger, a weather forecast, have a conversation with a cousin in Colorado, purchase a bottle Bordeaux wine, or find a box score for Game 5 of the 1982 World Series within 20 minutes. For the most part, the world is at my doorstep or at my fingertips. Therefore, to purposely go without something for Lent can be a powerful spiritual experience. We depend so much on the gods we surround ourselves with that we forget our true God who is the source of our life and being. A daily discipline of going without even one item or habit you treasure can remind you of your sinfulness and help you seek God.

But lately my mind has been centered on words from Isaiah 58. It lifts up concerns about fasting: the kinda concerns that create our so called "funny stories" about Lent. After all, more often than not we will fail in our endeavor. We will break the fast to early or turn the whole thing into a big joke. (Like God doesn't know you play X-Box instead of Playstation. Who are you trying to kid? Just who are you fasting for?) Too often our fasting causes us to turn inward and think only of ourselves and our pitiful situation. We don't end up looking for God, just for ways out. Serving others for our fast? Not likely.

If you are not familiar with the Isaiah 58 text, I included a portion of it in my post about Abraham Lincoln. But I want to lift up verses 6 and 7 again: "Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?"

How about giving Isaiah 58:6-7 a try for your Lenten fast this year. You may fall short once again and not live up to what it requires but there no better way to look outside yourself this season of Lent than to intentionally seek out those in need. The fast becomes you giving up the chocolate or the burger so you can give it to someone else.

A friend of mine for some time now has been giving up his Whopper lunches at Burger King, not just to become more healthy, but to use the money saved to feed the hungry. Somehow, that seems to be the type of fasting God would have chosen for Lent.

Friday, February 20, 2009

His Light Shines in our Hearts

Last weekend the remake of the movie Friday the 13th made over $40,000,000. It was the most popular movie of the weekend, earning more than double the highly anticipated Confessions of a Shopaholic, which came in fourth. The universally panned slasher movie also did far better than any of the movies nominated for Oscars. I guess people today are more interested in a new old scary movie than that are in Frost/Nixon.

People like to be scared.... or at least scared in an environment where they have some semblance of control. In Friday the 13th its the beautiful young people in the movie getting all cut up, not the audience. The theater may be dark, but the audience can hold the hands of their dates, or just get up and walk out. They have control.

The things we have no control over are far more terrifying than a horror flick. The current economic situation is what frightens many people today. It has surprised us. Looking at our economy we have discovered how so much of what we believed in was a lie.

And what were those lies?
- You can't loose money if you invest in a home: lie.
- Put your retirement in the stock market, in the long run it always goes up: lie.
- If you have enough stuff you will be happy: lie.

There's a verse in 2 Corinthians that speaks to this: "The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (2 Cor 4:4)." Notice the first word "god" is with a small "g." What is the god, or the gods, of this age? It's all those things that would have us turn away from God and seek only personal gain and safety. The god of this world makes us believe that security is found in money and meaning comes from stuff. The past few years has exposed this wickedness as a lie... and people are terrified. Unfortunately, you can't just walk out of this theater. You can't just take delight in fact it's only the actors who get burned. You know you've been burned yourself. We all have been blinded by this darkness.

Someone turn on the lights! Someone let us see again!


"And [Jesus] was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white... [Peter, James and John] were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud came a voice, 'This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him (Mark 2a, 3, 6a-7)!'"

God has turned on the light. God has given us the Light of the World. All along we have been listening to the god of this age... the god of this world... and all his lies and darkness. Now that we know the truth we are scared to the depth of our souls. I think the reason Peter, James and John are so terrified up on that mountain of the Transfiguration is because the lies of this world have been exposed to them as well. When God turns on the light, it becomes crystal clear that everything else that they, and we believe in is simply darkness. Once see that the message of Jesus shines like the sun we know in our hearts that he must be the focus of our existence and the source of all meaning.

"For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God's glory displayed in the face of Christ (2 Cor 4:6)." We don't need to act like unbelievers any longer. We don't need to live in fear. We will not be controlled by money, or by our desire for money. We will not seek comfort from stuff or need to confess our "shopaholism." We will not pretend we are forsaken when we know for a fact that millions of children live in the slums of Mumbai in India and that millions of people right now face a future of only injustice and abuse.

Oh no... we will not dwell in this darkness any more. God has turned on the light. We have heard his gospel and feel his light shining in our hearts. We have knowledge of God's glory. We have seen the face of Christ and it is bright and it is beautiful and it deserves our worship and praise.

So what do we learn from Peter, James and John? They were terrifed, just like you, discovering the wickness of the world. They were terrified, just like you, once the truth about the lies of the god-of-this-ages were exposed. The light shined in their heart... told them to listen to Jesus... they were terrified.

But they didn't stay on the ground for long. They stood up. They walked down that mountain. And only after Jesus' resurrection did they fully understand what all this meant.

Think about what the Light of the World has done for you. Understand it through the lense of the cross, and get yourself up! It's not the same as walking out of a theater, rather its quite the opposite. Your getting up because you have hope and know that so many are still afraid. You are getting up and entering the story so that unbelievers may be pulled out of the darkness. The lies of this world will be exposed and the light of grace will finally shine within all people. Together we will see the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Make Men Free

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea, with a glory in his bosom that transfigures you and me. As he died to make me holy, let us live to make men free, while God is marching on. - The Battle Hymn of the Republic

Today is Abraham Lincoln's 200th birthday. Considered by many the greatest of our presidents, Lincoln's image is often dominated by the idea of him as a "monument," while the flesh and bone Lincoln takes a back seat. Historians remind us that Lincoln was a politician, having both lost and won elections, displaying occasionally the poor traits associated with the profession. Yes he was concerned about his image. Every photo we have of him was carefully planned and artistically put together. Yes there were other political motives behind even Lincoln's greatest act: the Emancipation Proclamation. But Mr. Lincoln truly displayed the very best traits a successful politician could have: integrity, strength, courage, and a practical understanding for what is right. You certainly cannot put any other president forward as being greater.

"The Battle Hymn of the Republic" is the song most closely associated with Lincoln's time. An anthem for abolitionists first, it serves today as a symbol for what the Union stood for in the Civil War. It calls upon Christians to recognize the power of Christ whom they worship. It lifts up a message of grace: through the glory of the cross humanity has been made righteous. It then lifts up a call: "live to make men free." In other words, respond to God's grace by obeying Christ's call: Serve those in need. Stand against oppression and injustice.

The greatness of Lincoln is that he acted. When others would have allowed the Union to dissolve, Lincoln acted. When others would have given up after early Confederate victories, Lincoln acted. When others would have stepped down against great political opposition, Lincoln acted. When others would have kept the status quo on slavery, Lincoln acted. When others would have punished the defeated south harshly, Lincoln acted... until he was shot dead.

Yes Lincoln was a man... but he accepted his call and acted on behalf of his people. He served those in need and stood against injustice. In our own ways, obeying our own calls, seeing our own opportunities, we are called to do the same.

6 "Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?

7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.

9 Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
"If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,

10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. (Isaiah 58:6-10)

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Stand Against Hate

President Obama spoke this morning at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington. Dignitaries from around the world and many of our national leaders were present at this important event. President Obama's brief speech lifted up the theme of unity. He observed that while the religions of the world are diverse, at the heart of all faiths is an understanding that humans are called to stand against hate. We are called to love others.

"Jesus told us to 'love thy neighbor as thyself.' The Torah commands, 'That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow.' In Islam, there is a hadith that reads 'None of you truly believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.' And the same is true for Buddhists and Hindus; for followers of Confucius and for humanists. It is, of course, the Golden Rule - the call to love one another; to understand one another; to treat with dignity and respect those with whom we share a brief moment on this Earth (President Obama 2/5/09)."

Being created in the image of God means that all humans have a desire to know their Creator and have his will written within their DNA. A careful of study of all religions reveals that it is the desire of our God that we love others instead of hate... that we help instead of compete. God is love. Humanity, though still sinful, stands out as unique in all creation because we are called to reject the "dog-eat-dog" reality of nature and stand instead for love for all people. That global religions all express this same hope in their own ways is a powerful witness to God. It is also a call. Allow yourself to be a instrument of God's will for peace and love.