Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Way of Peace

     Its Christmas Day 2010 and I am thinking of the angelic announcement, Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors. (Luke 2:14). We usually read and say this as simply, Peace on earth and Good Will toward Men. Anyway you translate it the idea is of course that with Jesus' birth the possibility of peace among humans is enhanced, perhaps even truly enabled. But how?
     Human history has been anything but a peace parade! The very fact that what Jesus came to bring, namely grace, mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation shows us that the world is full of their opposites. The world is a vivid contrast to each of these divine gifts. This is true with individuals, small groups and nations with nations. The need for peace on earth is demonstrated daily by the discord within each of ourselves on the micro and macro scales. The need is real, but again what is the way for finding the meeting of the need? Dietrich Bonhoeffer sheds some light on this for us.
     I have been reading a recent bio of Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas called Bonhoeffer, Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. Bonhoeffer is the Christian theologian who was an activist in the resistence movement in Germany against Adolf Hitler. He was also involved in one of the many plots to assassinate the dictator and was later executed for it. At age 28 Bonhoeffer addressed a gathering of German church leaders and gave his now often quoted and memorable Peace Speech. This was a call for Christians to hear God's Word and obey it. In the speech Bonhoeffer points to the path to peace and that path is a radical one. I believe this way answers the question for us about how peace can be achieved among humans. Here's a quote from the speech:
There is no way to peace along the way of safety. For peace must be dared, it is itself the great venture and can never be safe. Peace is the opposite of security. To demand guarantees is to want to protect oneself. Peace means giving oneself completely to God's commandment, wanting no security, but in faith and obedience laying the destiny of the nations in the hand of Almighty God, not trying to direct it for selfish purposes. Battles are won, not with weapons, but with God. They are won when the way leads to the cross.
     On this Christmas Day I am reminded that the babe born in Bethlehem was, as the hymn writer says, Born to die, that man might live. The way of peace and of the reconciliation which brings that peace, is the way of the cross. It is by death to selfishness that the way is cleared for peace to reign. Only when we choose not to take offense, but love and forgive the offender, will we be following in the way of the Prince of Peace. This way of the cross can be taken by us in our daily interactions with others and our world. It is a hard way, because it is not a natural course for us. But when we take it we are demonstrating our trust in the One who lived, died and rose again to take that path ahead of us and bid us follow after him upon it.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Amazing Plot Twist.

I am a fan of the films of Akira Kurosawa (Stray Dog, Seven Samurai, Yojimbo, Kagemusha and Ran to name a few). Recently I watched High and Low (aka Heaven and Hell) Kurosawa’s 1963 thriller with Toshiro Mifune.

Told in two acts, the first is about a wealthy executive named Kingo Gondo (Mifune) who mortgages all he has to stage a leveraged buyout and gain control of a company called National Shoes, with the intent of keeping the company out of the hands of its other executives. Gondo disagrees with the executives over the direction of the company. One faction wants to make the company a modern mass market low quality manufacturer while the founder of the company tries to keep it conservative with good quality. Gondo believes he can split the difference by making high quality modern shoes. Then he is told that his son has been kidnapped. Gondo is prepared to pay the ransom, until he learns that the kidnappers have mistakenly abducted the child of Gondo's chauffeur, instead of his own son.
The kidnapping occurs in parallel with the corporate buyout drama and Gondo is forced to make a decision about whether to pay the ransom or complete the buyout. His vulnerable position is exposed to the other executives when his top aide betrays him to protect himself. Finally, after a long night of contemplation and pressure from his wife and the chauffeur, Gondo decides to pay the ransom. This decision essentially seals his fate, as the other executives now have the power to vote him out of his directorship, leaving him hopelessly indebted. This move ends up making Gondo into a national hero, while the National Shoe Company is vilified and boycotted.
The second act follows police procedure as they put together clues to find the ransom money, and the kidnapper. It is revealed that the main kidnapper is in fact a medical intern at a nearby hospital, whose sole motive is his hatred for Gondo which stems from jealousy. His apartment is directly under Gondo's significantly larger house on an overlooking hill, one of the many hints of the film's title throughout the film. As the kidnapper gets rid of his accomplices by causing them to overdose on drugs, the detective hatches a plot to catch him when all seems lost. The detective lures him out of hiding by pretending that his accomplices survived his attempt to dispatch them. Most of the ransom money is recovered, but too late for Gondo to avert financial ruin. With the kidnapper facing a death sentence, he and Gondo finally meet face to face at the very end, and motives and feelings are examined.
For me the most dramatic moment of the film is when Gondo learns who has really been kidnapped. Now that he knows his own son is safe should he pay the ransom for the son of his lowly chauffeur? It’s a wonderful and unexpected twist in the plot. There really is no reason why Gondo should involve himself further. Why jeopardize the big business deal he is about to complete? His whole future rests on that deal and ransoming his driver’s son would virtually mean the ruining of that deal. And yet that is what Gondo does. He pays the ransom, not out of logic, but compassion. Kurosawa uses this plot device to reveal his character’s humanity.
This reminds me of a similar plot twist found in the Biblical story. Fallen humanity gives God no reason to be saved. All have sinned, all have fallen short of God’s glory, yet God reveals his divinity by saving us. In fact God becomes human to do so. It is as if we are all the children of some lowly, undeserving and minor worker, yet that does not stand in the way of God providing the ransom payment for us.
Kurosawa was on the right path…but it seems that God took things even further!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Thoughts on July 4th

In 1983 I had the privilege of traveling with Dr. Charles Kirkpatrick who was then General Secretary for Free Methodist World Missions. Through a series of circumstances God had enabled me to become a link in contacting the leadership of the Hungarian Evangelical Fellowship. These were pastors and congregations who had been disenfranchised by the Hungarian State Church and who were then basically homeless having lost churches and parsonages which had been taken away from them by their government.

Some really great things happened on the trip and now we have a seminary in Buda Pest and a strong Free Methodist presence there. But I will never forget the moment when we landed at the Buda Pest airport.
We had taken off from Sweden for the last leg of our trip where I had been on a Swedish chocolate buying binge just prior to take off! As our plane rolled up to the terminal I looked out my window to see soldiers with automatic rifles standing at the foot of each plane’s stairway. I suddenly realized I wasn’t in Kansas any more!

This was especially confirmed later that night when driving to our host’s apt. we were stopped by police and had to show our papers.
…Just like in some Cold War spy movie!

These and other experiences from that visit in what was then known as an Iron Curtain country have given me a deep appreciation for the independence we enjoy in this country.

Today our nation celebrates that independence and much will be rightly made of it.
We thank God today for those founders who courageously pursued a vision of human government which may genuinely be called enlightened and unlike anything known before it. We also pay homage to the thousands of Americans which have sacrificed themselves to protect our independence in conflicts at home and abroad. Our heartfelt prayer today should be God bless America…God bless our leaders and our people with the wisdom and courage to live the right and just way in this fallen world of ours.
As Prov. 14:34 says,
Righteousness exalts a nation,
but sin is a disgrace to any people.

And that is the issue isn’t it?...Sin?
No person or people can be free if they are not free from sin. No one is genuinely independent when bound by sin.

When God intervened to deliver his people from bondage in Egypt God did so by rescuing them from the powers of the gods of Egypt. The people’s salvation was realized as they discovered the living God and were led out to follow him in faith and obedience. This transformed these former slaves into the independent nation of Israel. Their freedom came through their relationship with God and whenever they forsook that relationship they found themselves in bondage once again.

This weekend millions of people across our nation will use the 4th as a reason to celebrate. Whether they will be genuinely thankful for America and the freedoms they enjoy here or just use the holiday as an excuse for self indulgence is up to them. But unless there is acknowledgment of sin and the need for repentance, individually and nationally, the celebration will be hollow at best.

As the Lords says 2 Chron. 7:14,
…if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

Individual and national sin is linked for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
This is why the ultimate source for independence is not a human vision or document, but the grace of God and the cross of Jesus Christ. God’s Word, not the words of man, is the way.

As we celebrate those patriots who suffered under the burden of foreign tyranny and sought to bring a solution to save this nation from it…to declare its’ independence from such power…let us not forget the One who came to bear the burden of the weight of everyone’s sin and to offer himself as the means whereby God can deliver us from its’ tyranny.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Contextualizing Life

Yesterday I went to my daughter Elizabeth’s graduation ceremony. She has completed her B.A. as a History major through the University of Washington. She graduated on the Dean’s List. When she began college she was a single Mom. For the last four years she has managed being a mother, a student, and later a wife with a home to run. Throughout she has maintained an A grade level and not lost her sense of enjoyment for her studies. I am very proud of her to say the least!
At the ceremony the head of the History department talked about the study of history as a means for contextualizing a person’s life. I was struck by that insight. We live in such an instant society where the NOW seems so important and history is what happened last week or last month or maybe, if you stretch it, five or ten years ago at best. Once on a flight home I sat next to a high school age boy and a twenty something woman. At one point they began discussing life and especially his school experience and he made the remark, I just don’t get all this history stuff. I mean what does my knowing about the Civil War have anything to do with my life today?...My heart sank.
George Santayana (1863-1952) philosopher, essayist, poet and novelist said, Those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it. Maybe a more contemporary application of his observation might be that failure to understand history can leave a person and a culture without a context.
Has anyone checked recently to see where we are going as a society? From individuals to our nation as a whole we appear to have very little sense of direction other than the to do lists of the moment. People live their lives today like they are adrift. They have lost their moorings. Could it be a loss of context…mental, emotional, historic and spiritual? Are we only preoccupied with self and its’ interests? Sure seems that way. Perhaps that is the best we can do when we have little or no historic framework for our lives…for our culture?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Last December I went in for my annual exam. After several years of exercise and weight lifting I went to the doctor's with a cocky attitude! I couldn't wait for the part where he asked me to take off my shirt so I could show off the results of my weight lifting labors.

The next day I did the routine blood work...the day after that the nurse called to tell me my PSA count had doubled since last year's exam. What followed was a journey from January to May of antibiotics, tests and finally a biposy. Cancer. Early, but aggressive. WOW who would of thought?
On May 18 I had four hours of robotic surgery. Now I am on the mend. Not so cocky now. More aware of Who is really in control of things.

For months now James 4:13-16 has been cycling through my mind with great regularity.
It says,
Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.” How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.” Otherwise you are boasting about your own plans, and all such boasting is evil.

Too bad it takes a jolt from cancer or some such thing to remind us we are not actually the Captains of our Fate, but rather creatures in the hands of the living God.
...Awesome, yet GOOD what better hands to be in than His.