Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thank You, God

Scripture reveals an amazing thing about grace: God provides for everyone. Jesus makes that point when he challenged people to pray for their enemies: "[God] makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous (Matthew 5:45)." On his way to Jerusalem, once, Jesus cleansed ten lepers after telling them "go and show yourselves to the priests." Only a Samaritan came back to say "thanks," but all ten were made clean nonetheless.

God provides for everyone. I like the way Martin Luther puts it: God creates us and sustains us. "God has given me and still preserves my body and soul..." God is also the provider of all that we need: "God daily and abundantly provides shoes and clothing, food and drink, house and farm, spouse and children, fields, livestock, and all property - along with all the necessities and nourishment for this body and life." Thank you God.

That's right... THANK YOU, GOD!

Why say thank you? God provides, regardless of our gratitude. It's that way for humans and it's that way for creation. Surly the flowers and the bird are provided for without the requirement of gratitude. So, why say thank you? The story of Jesus cleansing those ten people of their leprosy gives us some insight. "One of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him... Then [Jesus] said to him, 'Get up and go on your way; your faith as made you well (Luke 17:15-16, 19).'"

Christ cleanses all of them in this story, but only one discovers a faith that leads to wellness... a wholeness and wellness found in gratitude. Now, he will be able to go forth in freedom, empowered to live in Christ. Now, he will be free from the despair that leads so many to forget that God always makes available the things that are needed. It is a tragedy every time people forget that.

God's abundance is always available. We need Thanksgiving to remind us of what is real: God sustains us and provides for us. We need prayers of thankfulness and praise to plug us into the kingdom of abundance of which we are a part. When we say thank you, we open ourselves to the power that makes us well and sets us free.

God provides. The wicked and the righteous will continue to be blessed. Birds will continue to find water. Flowers will continue to receive nutrients from the ground. But Christ came that we might have life, and have it abundantly. Through our gratitude, thanks and praise we plug into a living faith that transforms us from existing to thriving.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Landing our Lives upon the Way of Christ

The European Space Agency's Rosetta mission was able to land their Philae lander on the surface of the Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko yesterday. Amazing! Sounds like the stuff of fairy tales: Like hoping on a shooting star to catch a ride to Saturn... or at least it seems that way to me.

There are so many cool facts about this Rosetta mission: The comet itself is almost three miles long and two miles wide. It is flying through space at about 40,000 miles/hour. It's a problem for an AP Physics exam: How do you shoot an object from Earth into a comet moving that fast in the weightlessness of space? How do you get that object to slow down enough to perform a soft landing upon that comet? I guess there's a little bit of AP Calculus in there as well.

Another cool fact is that the weight of the Philae lander is only 1 gram on the comet. Their's just not much holding that thing on that comet. But I think the coolest fact of them all is that the Philae lander landed on about an inch and a half of some sort of dust. I'm just trying to think of this cosmic dust laying on the surface of this comet. How does it not blow off? Is it because there is no wind? I better go see the movie Interstellar. Wow.

This becomes a bit of a Psalm 8 moment for me: our wonderful You're-awesome-God-and-we-are-too psalm. "Lord, oh Lord, how majestic is your name throughout the earth! You made your glory higher than the heaven!" But don't forget us humans: Way to go guys! You landed that thing. "What are human beings that you think about them; what are human beings that you pay attention to them? You've made them only slightly less than divine, crowning them with glory and grandeur (Psalm 8:4-5)." God, you sure have crowned those know-it-alls at the European Space Agency with glory and grandeur.

In someways though, the know-it-alls have it easy. Crank out enough physics and calculus equations and boy look what you can achieve. Get the right engineers on board and you can actually build something that's gonna work. Yes, there are failures, like Virgin Galactic's crash last month, but we dust ourselves off and move ahead.

In matters of faith and the spirit, it doesn't play out quite as easily as rocket science. For as tough as that level of science can be, aiming for the life of Jesus Christ, and embracing the abundant life Jesus died on the cross to give us, can become so much more difficult. Instead of working harder, the way of Christ is about surrendering. Instead of creating bigger, better equations, the way of Christ challenges us to the simplicity found in child, even as we mature in faith.

Navigating the narrow way of Christ... landing upon the speeding comet of living faith... means getting back to the basics of who you are as creature. The calc problems we work on are the spiritual exercises of prayer and meditation, generosity and rest. Landing our lives upon the way of Christ then leads to the truth found in another Psalm. Living with, in and for Christ: "They are like a tree replanted by streams of water, which bears fruit at just the right time and whose leaves don't fade. Whatever they do succeeds (Psalm 1:3)."

Monday, November 03, 2014

Nik Wallenda in the Sky

Up among the rooftops of the Chicago skyline, Nik Wallenda's Sunday stroll memorized me. I The whole time I watched at home with my body halfway turned away. I grunted and groaned, much to the dismay of my wife. I was not looking for a disaster, but for beauty. There was even some inspiration to be found in the over-hyped, over-commercialized event. The showman is also the artist.

I've been interested in Nik Wallenda and his story for some time now. I'm generally pretty late to things like the whole Wallenda show: allergic to many of the "must-sees" of our culture. But Nik's walk over the Grand Canyon hooked me in. There is something about walking on a wire that leaves me spellbound. When I went to the Ringling Brothers Circus a few years ago I needed to be right under the high wire act and loved every terrifying moment. When I saw the great documentary, Man on Wire, about Philippe Petit's illegal walk between the twin towers of the World Trade Center, I thought it was one of the best movies I'd ever seen. Defying the laws of physics... defying the laws of fear... I love it. Truly, as Nik puts it: to walk the wire is to live.

There are so many levels to the Nik Wallenda phenomenon:
1. It's a dare-devil act, in the style rarely seen any more.

2. It's family. The enmeshedness of the family is fascinating. Generations have been taking up the family business. They take on all the responsibilities: mom made Nik's shoes, an uncle handles setting up the wires, dad talks Nik through every step, wife and kids await Nik's return. This is not a normal family, nor should they be seen as a model family, but the way they work together is amazing.

3. It's art. Iconic images (Niagara Falls, Grand Canyon, Chicago Skyline) juxtaposed with this little dot-of-a-man casually walking across. It's beautiful.

4. It's mortality in your face. I can't walk across a high bridge or out on a 29th floor balcony without fear freezing me on the spot. I've been on top of the World Trade Center, outside, and in the open air section of the CN Tower in Toronto. The wind blows hard up there. How can he do it?

5. It's faith in God. Nik is a believer and credits his faith for his ability to walk on a wire, to be a husband and father, and to be the best person he can be. With all the gravitas of an evangelical preacher, Nik will keep saying "Thank you Jesus."

6. It's a lesson in training. You don't just go out and walk a wire. It takes daily discipline and practice. Because Nik walks the walk every day and physically trains he is then be ready to walk that walk 600 feet in the air. This connects again with faith, for in the same way it takes daily training in faith in order to produce the fruit of the spirit.

So Nik... Keep on walking. Place three hours of commercials before your show and even wear advertisements up and down your body. Pray with Joel Osteen, Rick Warren, Billy Graham and Max Lucado before your walk. It's all fine with me. I'll be watching because what you do is beautiful.