Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Lord, Teach Us.

We learn so much about what it means to follow Christ through three chapters in Matthew's Gospel: The Sermon on the Mount. Dietrich Bonhoeffer felt that the Sermon on the Mount was critical to understanding what Christ's expectations are for us. He lifted up ideas from Matthew 5-7 in many of his writings. In his Ethics Bonhoeffer wrote this:
The Sermon on the Mount are divine commandments for action in history insofar as they are the reality that has been fulfilled in Christ... Thus, the Sermon on the Mount itself confronts a person with the necessity of responsible historical action... The Sermon on the Mount is either valid as the word of God's world-reconciling love everywhere and at all times, or it is not really relevant for us at all.
Bonhoeffer was critical of the idea that we can compartmentalize faith in Christ. The idea of saving Christian love and charity for Sunday and then embracing worldly pursuits and values the rest of the week is inconsistent with the teachings of Christ.  Jesus teaches us this very thing in the Sermon. "The eye is the lamp to the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great the darkness! (Matthew 6:22-23)"  You either live the Sermon on the Mount or you don't. You either live and believe what God has done and is doing through love and through Christ, or you don't.

"No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth (6:24)."

The Sermon on the Mount is truth about God's love for us through Christ. It is truth about the claim that God is making upon the world and its values. Followers of Christ seek to live their lives as a refection of God's truth that God's Kingdom is breaking in. Because it doesn't work to live out Christ's love only some of the time or to reflect his light only some of the time, our prayer is that God will guide us to always be true to his calling for us.

This is the point of the "Living Christ Love" guide.  It is a reminder that being "the light of the world (5:14)" is not easy.  But with the Spirit's help it is a spiritual pursuit that is worthwhile because it is based on love, on God, and on truth. Jesus teachings, when lived out, are freeing to your soul. "My yoke is easy and my burden is light (Matthew 11:30)."  Living Christ's love, you can be true to yourself. You can be in relationship with others, even with difficult people. You can always be hopeful through faith and prayer. You can engage with others in a spirit of compassion and humility. You can disagree and not risk everything. You can be vulnerable and trust others. You can stay connected and not give up your true self; your true call.

Lord, teach us. He has in the "Sermon on the Mount" and has modeled what he taught through his life, his cross, and his resurrection. Help us, O Lord, to serve only you. Help us, within community, to be the light of the world so that others may come to know what God is doing right now as his Kingdom is breaking into the world.

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not bring us to the time of trial,
but rescue us from the evil one.
 - Matthew 6:9-13

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Tears of Joy

Near the end of Revelation, when the Seer sees "a new heaven and a new earth" there is a voice that is heard from the throne. What a voice and what a message:

See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away. (Revelation 21:3-4)

Here is a message of hope for all time.
The first things... periods of time where there is death and mourning and crying and pain... have passed away. 
The first things... periods of time when it's not so clear that God is among us... have passed away.
The first things... periods of time when God's people freely choose paths of destruction instead of hope... have passed away.  
The first things... periods of time we dwell in right now as we struggle through the ups and downs of life... will pass away. It will not always be like this.  God, who dwells with us in Christ, will make us and all things new.

What a vision of hope for things to come. Write it down! Believe it! These words and this vision is "trustworthy and true."

Recently someone approached me in tears. We certainly do still live among "the first things." Her tears were not the result of any physical pain, or fear for her future, instead they were tears for her loved ones... for her brothers. She knows of the voice of Christ and believes in Jesus, but her brothers do not. They don't believe. "I don't think they will be saved. That scares me so much. What can I do?"

Scripture from Daniel to the New Testament does lift up the image of children of God being resurrected to both salvation and damnation on the Day of Judgement (Daniel 12, John 5, Revelation 20).  Imagine that... some raised to everlasting life and others raised to everlasting contempt. How does that connect with the image of Revelation 21? If our loved one's are judged poorly on that day, how could we possibly not feel pain, or mourning, or crying? Will we not be devastated?

An image of Christ's love and the power of the cross shared by the author Garry Wills helps me to understand what God has done for us in Jesus. It helps me understand this image of the Judgment Day.

One night a father was putting his eight-year-old daughter to bed when he notice that she was crying. "Why are you crying he asked?"

"Oh, it's nothing," she replied.

"No, tell me.  I want to know what's wrong."

"Well, I'm afraid that I'm going to hell. And hell is a terrible place where you are always on fire and feel pain and suffer and it never stops. I'm so scared Daddy."

The Father was stunned by what his little girl was saying. "Where in the world did you get that idea?"

"My teacher was telling us about hell and said that if I'm not good then that's where God is going to send me." The daughter was visibly shaken as she said this.

There was a pause as tears began to form in the Father's eyes. His first instinct was to say that her teacher was just flat out wrong. But instead he put it to her this way. He pulled his daughter close to him and he looked at her full in the face and said to her.

"My dear, know this... if that's where you are going to go then I am going to be right there with you, to love you and to protect you and to never let you go."

God so loved the world...
He suffered death and was buried...
If we have united with Christ in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

When that day comes when we are gathered together before God, when mourning, crying, death and pain will be no more, it won't be because we're glad we're the lucky ones or because we have had our hard drives erased so we don't remember those "left behind." Death, crying, morning and pain being wiped away means that God has fully reconciled creation to himself in Christ.

It will be just. 
It will be life. 
It will be love.
It will be new. 
It will be God. 

Crying will be no more... or maybe the crying will be made new just as we are made new: transformed into tears of joy. How amazing it will be when our faith becomes sight and we fully experience God living among us.

Now that we have written down these words and digested them into our souls we are called to live our lives in light of this news. Love one another. Be kind. Live in community. Be a light so that tears of pain may become tears of joy right now... for all God's children.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Matthew Warren

I was saddened this afternoon to hear the news that Rick Warren's son Matthew committed suicide today. The author of the best selling Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren is nationally known. I follow Rick on Twitter and am thankful for his ability to stand for a gospel of justice and spiritual life as he serves as Pastor of Saddleback Church near Los Angeles.

As I keep Rick and his family in my prayers I will also be lifting up the many families who have been struck by the senseless and tragic monster called suicide. When the darkness of mental illness casts it's shadow on a child of God it is terrible to think of what can happen. When such darkness results in suicide, it makes you want to fall to your knees in despair.

Walking in the light of Christ we are free to live love. It might be that no amount of love would have broken through the illness that held on to Matthew, but it is love that holds on to him today as he dwells in the hope given to him and the whole world through Jesus. Love will give the Warren family the chance to see the light of hope as they now wander in grief.  God is with them.