Thursday, January 28, 2010

The United States of Anger?

I watched last night’s State of the Union and I have to say that from a public speaking perspective I thought it was a good speech. President Obama is an accomplished speaker. Many of the commentators noted the change in tone from previous speeches. The President has often been criticized for being too cerebral or professorial, and last night he was obviously attempting to head in a different direction by tapping into the frustration and anger felt by many in our country.

That’s understandable. Anger can be a big time motivator towards action. Apparently, anger at the Bush years swept Obama into power and anger in the last year has put this new president on his heels. The emotion of anger also makes for good television. That’s why the news media will always cover those shouting the loudest. To hear the media tell it, America these days, on the left and on the right, is one giant cauldron of boiling rage.

I’m not sure what percentage of Americans is actually angry, but I have a suggestion for those who are: Take a mission trip. Get out and serve the less fortunate. See if you can stay angry (at least stay angry in a self-righteous or self-focused sort of way). Last night, five of the teenagers in our church reported on a recent trip to Gora, Ethiopia. There they encountered people who truly live day to day, some on as little as $700 a year. The teenagers were surprised both by the poverty but also by the joy they discovered in the people who lived on so little. “Maybe we don’t need everything we think we need,” seemed to be a common lesson learned.

Interestingly, last night, there was not an ounce of teenage angst in that room. Instead, these young souls abounded in gratefulness. Yes, they had a renewed sense of thanksgiving for all the things in their life that they once took for granted. But you got the sense that their new found gratefulness went well beyond that. In fact, you could sense a great discomfort about how much they each owned compared to their new friends a world away. No, their gratefulness seemed to reach beyond the stuff they possessed to a deeper understanding of their purposes in the world. They were ultimately grateful to discover that God had invited them to participate in bringing about his coming Kingdom of love and grace, a Kingdom in which everyone has seat at the table and enough on their plate.

Angry, today? Try joining God on his mission of love and mercy.

The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love – Psalm 103:8

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Texas Hunger Initiative

This morning I attended the first official meeting of the San Angelo Food Planning Association. This group is the grass roots component of the Texas Hunger Initiative begun by Baylor University's School of Social Work and the Baptist General Convention of Texas' Christian Life Commission. While the impetus for the group has been Baptist organizations, the effort to end hunger in Texas by 2015 will obviously require a state wide effort from a number of fronts. We're already seeing that here in San Angelo. It was exciting to be in the room with such capable and caring people from SAISD, the area Food Bank, the Boys and Girls Club, various food bank ministries, and a number of other churches. It's exciting to think what might happen from this group.

The first goal is to increase the number of children participating in summer feeding programs. Did you know that in Texas 9.3 million children receive free or reduced meals at school? In the summertime, that number drops to 1.9 million children. That leaves 7.4 million children food insecure during the summer months. In San Angelo, 8,000 students are fed during the school year while only 2,500 are fed during the summer months. What would it take to feed the other 5,500 children this summer?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Hey, that's mine!!!

Few things are more frustrating than having something taken from us that we consider our own. Think of that last piece of cake. You’d set it aside for a special treat later in the day. All day long you’d tolerated the petty and the routine with the comforting thought of that first sweet bite accompanied by a cold gulp of milk. Imagine the disappointment that spreads over you as you enter the kitchen only to find a plate of crumbs in the sink. “That was mine! How could you?” you say. The culprit pleads ignorance, but it doesn’t really matter, the offense has occurred and you are now beside yourself. You’re in a funk. You’re unduly offended. Forget all the other tragedies in the world, something that was rightfully yours has been stolen from you – the gall!

We can imagine the scene, because we’ve all encountered it. Maybe not with a piece of cake, but certainly with all manner of other things – a potential peaceful afternoon interrupted by an uninvited guest, a day off derailed by a call from work, a nap prevented by a telemarketer’s call. Sometimes it’s not the big stuff in life that bothers us the most. Perhaps, it’s because we don’t lay claim to the big stuff. Most of us wouldn’t say we have ownership over the direction of the economy or that we are guaranteed possession of the next decade of life. But that last piece of cake – these next 24 hours – this nap time – these are mine! And fair warning to anyone who wants to take them away from me.

But do I really have possession of the next twenty-four hours? Do I even have possession of the next twenty-four minutes? Is my time my own? Or is it a gift from the hand of another? As believers, we know the right answer, but we don’t always live from the perspective that answer gives. C. S. Lewis once suggested that if God showed up in person and demanded our service for just one day, we wouldn’t refuse a single request. And if the only command he gave was for us to give up an afternoon off in order to entertain an uninvited, foolish guest, we’d be delighted to do so. After all, God might have commanded something far more dangerous or demanding. And if God actually, ever said to us on that day, take the next thirty minutes for yourself – we’d see those minutes not as something we possess, but rather as a tremendous gift. Lewis goes on to write, if we think about this example for even a few moments, we are bound to realize this is the actual situation we find ourselves in every day.

What would our days look like if we truly began them from the perspective that each day, each hour, each minute is a gift from God? How might this change the way we see the interruptions and the frustrations? Still as time stolen? Or maybe simply as a gift redirected?

The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it – Psalm 24:1

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Bible Possibly Written Centuries Earlier, Text Suggests - Sphere News

This is interesting. New discovery of ancient hebrew on a piece of pottery hints that the Scriptures may have been written down earlier than previously thought. Sometimes these things turn out not to be as big a deal later on, but initially seems pretty interesting. Whether or not this pans out, the Hebrew faith had an early emphasis upon caring for the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the stranger. It's a theme that continued to be stressed by the prophets hundreds of years later and continued in the NT writings.

Bible Possibly Written Centuries Earlier, Text Suggests - Sphere News

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Praying for things to be made right (aka: praying for justice)

Last night at prayer meeting we looked at the parable of the persistent widow from Luke 18:1-8. At first glance it’s a strange parable. A widow lady, unable to gain justice from an unjust judge, pesters the man until he relents. It all reminds me of the scene from The Shawshank Redemption in which Andy Dufresne (played by Tim Robbin) keeps writing weekly letters to the Maine state Senate requesting more books for the prison library. The Senate finally relents giving him the books he has requested thinking this will put an end to Andy’s correspondence. Instead, Andy doubles his efforts and begins sending two letters a week in his quest for better educational opportunities for prison inmates. Justice through annoyance, I guess.

The parable, upon first reading, may seem to indicate that God is like the unjust judge or the reluctant state Senate. We may mistakenly think we must pester God into action. But Jesus makes plain, God is not like the unjust judge. He will give justice to those who request it (maybe not on a time frame we’re comfortable with – but he will not forsake us – he will one day set all things right!). The point of the parable, then, isn’t about the judge’s faithfulness, but the widow’s. Like Andy at Shawshank, she is to be commended for the fact that she never gave up on justice even in the face of tremendous odds. She never conceded that injustice is simply the way the world works. She remained steadfast on the side of what is right even if steadfastness only meant keeping up her protest (which must at times have grown old even for her) against the evil judge. The widow becomes an example of faithfulness to God’s mission of justice in our world.

Jesus concludes the parable with both a promise and a question. He promises that God will indeed bring justice about for the oppressed at Christ’s return, but asks, “Will God find faith on the earth?” That is, will we still be looking for justice when the Almighty finally shows up? Will we still be calling for God to act, for God to save, even if our prayers seem to go unheard for years? Even if the systems of the world continue to promote injustice for the poor and the oppressed? In the face of great tragedies like the one in Haiti, or the particular injustices and catastrophes of our own communities, will we still be on the lookout for Christ’s coming in our world? Long after the headlines of this week’s tragedy have passed, will we still be asking, and knocking, and seeking God’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven? Like the widow, will we be faithful to pray and not give up? Lord, I pray it may be so.

The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern – Proverbs 29:7.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

God is the same everywhere. . . I am not

One of my goals in 2010 is to be more attentive to the presence of God in the world around me. I want to have eyes that see and ears that hear. A wonderful little story about seeking God’s presence is told by Rabbi David J Wolpe, in his book Why Faith Matters.

There is a story of a Hasidic rabbi whose child used to wander off to
spend time alone in a forest. Concerned and curious, one day the rabbi pulled
his boy aside to ask him what he was doing.

"I go to the forest to find God," said the boy.

"That's wonderful," replied his father. "But you need not go to the forest
to find God. Don't you know that God is the same everywhere?"

"God is," the boy answered, "but I'm not."

As I approach this new year with the desire to know God more, I wonder, what steps can I take to position myself to know him better? Christ himself took time early in the mornings, away from the crowds, in a garden or up on a mountain in order to be attentive to God’s spirit. I don’t think our places and times for seeking God must be identical to Christ’s. Kitchen tables after everyone has gone to bed may be as wonderful a place to find God as a garden early in the morning. The key is to find a time and a place where we can genuinely seek him.

So what works for you? What are moments in the past when you were more attentive to God’s presence? What helped you be more attentive? Where, today, do you find it easiest to discover His Spirit?

O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you,
in a dry and weary land where there is no water (Psalm 63:1)

Monday, January 4, 2010

Don't throw out those Christmas cards!

Do you hate throwing out all the Christmas cards people have sent you but don't know what to do with them? My wife, Alyson, found this tip - keep them in a basket near your kitchen table. Then, each night, as you eat dinner, pull one out and say a prayer for the person(s) who sent it. We've done this for a few nights now - here are some of the immediate benefits.

  • It's engaged the kids in family devotional time. We take turns choosing the card from the basket - each child relishing his or her time to "pick the card."
  • It's given Alyson and I a way to share some of our history with our children. We have fun explaining the connection between the sender's family and our own to our kids. These conversations have already led to some pretty funny questions as my kids try to figure out their parents life B.C. (Before Children).
  • Praying for our friends and family by name at the supper table is proving to be a tremendous blessing. It causes me to grow in thanksgiving as I recall all the ways these friends have blessed us through the years. The prayers remind me of God's faithfulness through the years and his hand of provision in the present in my life and in the lives of others.

All in all a wonderful addition to our family devotional time. Thanks to my wife for leading us to do it. You ought to try it out this week - I think it will be a great blessing for you, as well.