September 24, 2011
Do all things without grumbling or questioning
They are called life commandments, those saying that come to us from our parents probably from our grand and great grandparents, those sayings that govern our lives. One of my dad's favorites has always been, "Jump when I say jump, and ask how high on the way up." I heard it early, and I heard it often whenever Dad was trying to instill in me the importance of and need for first time obedience.
First time obedience is a teacher's dream. We speak often of wishing our students paid the kind of attention that would allow us to give instructions once and have a realistic expectation that those instructions would be followed. It would seem, however, that first time obedience is not part of the characteristics common in human nature. Had it been, Dad would not have had to ever use that infamous maxim. He would have been able to ask us or tell us to do a task with full expectation that it would be done.
Apparently, this lack of attention is not limited to the modern or post-modern generations. Pastor Paul also had to remind the early Christ followers that their lives ought to be without grumbling or questioning, that they should have a faith which would compel them to a life modeled after that of Jesus "who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Philippians 2 ESV).
Be we adult or be we children seems not to matter. The rebellion is in us, and we would prefer to grumble and question. But, a life of faith is a life surrendered to God. It is a life that "let's God be God," a life lived in such a manner "that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life..." (Philippians 2 ESV)
September 17, 2011
to live is Christ, and to die is gain
What the day was like, I donÕt remember. IÕm not sure how old I was either. IÕd say it was a fair day, and I must have been in third or fourth grade. As I think back, IÕm surprised at how much freedom we MKÕs (missionary kids) had during the week our parents were in meetings out on Coaba Farm. We pretty much had the run of the mill. (I chuckle at my pun because at one time there were two or three mills on the farm. The old mill stones sat out on the lawns and the mill houses had been converted to lodging either permanent for the missionaries who lived on the farm or guest for families like ours who sometimes stayed an extra week for vacation. The water ditches that fed the mills were still operational and favorite venues for play.)
What made that particular day memorable was my encounter with death. No, it was not my near-death nor the death of anyone I knew, so the encounter was not that personal. A man who lived in the town of Cheje just up the hill from the farm had died. I didnÕt know him, but I have a ŅphotoÓ image in my mind of his friends carrying his rough wood casket on their shoulders and his family, most likely his widow, wailing as they followed along while they crossed the farm on the rock strewn path to the cemetery on the opposite side of the valley. The memory is clearly visual, but it is also emotional. I wonÕt forget the wailing and the tears, and I recall asking my parents about it later and wondering at the depths of the grief so vividly displayed.
Death has been no stranger in my life. As a young pastor, in my first year and a half of ministry, I buried twenty-one members of the parish I served. Deaths of grandparents, two brothers-in-law, a young friendÕs wife, my wife, and a nephew followed. There are and there will be more. One day it will be my turn.
How close to death Pastor Paul was when he wrote to the Philippians is not sure. It would seem if death was imminent is was more likely to be of martyrdom than of age or desease. He was in prison for his faith and in his facing of death almost lamented that death was not close enough. ŅFor to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain,Ó he confessed as he struggled between his knowledge that GodÕs work for him on earth might not be finished and his overwhelming desire to have completed his mission and be rewarded with the eternal heaven for which he so longed.
The grief of death is so real, and sometimes its power surprises me; but Pastor Paul seem to have no grief in his approaching death. What ever it is the earthly heart does, the reality of the Christian death is that it is freedom from the the griefs of this life, it is the final victory over both this earthÕs life and this earthÕs death. For the believer, the one whose life is found in Christ, to live is indeed Christ and to die is indeed gain.
September 12, 2011
each of us will give an account
It occurs to me that the memories of my sins may serve to keep me humble. There are plenty of deeds I would just as soon forget, but forgetting seems impossible. That the memories serve to keep me humble came to me as I was preparing to share on "As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions."
One of my faults is the tendency toward pride particularly when it comes to acts that really might be considered to be in the gray area. They, things like smoking and drinking, tend to have a lot of weight because of my pietistic leanings and upbringing. The fact is that I have never smoked a cigarette or joint and have had no more than one swallow of beer in all my life. From a pietist perspective these easily become boasting points.
Smoking has always been "wrong" for me, but since we as junior high kids wanted to know what it was like to feel smoke in our mouths and even "dare" to inhale it or at least route it our of our noses, we used to "hide" in the empty lot behind the parsonage among the construction refuse and light hollow straws and twigs to smoke. It didn't take many drags to cure us of the desire.
So pride over nothing is checked by a keen awareness of my sin, and I'm back to the text that uses food and observation of days as examples of tenets that fall in the basket of opinions. What comes at the end is that there is no room for my judgment of the servant of another but that I only be convinced of what I believe knowing that it is to be Lord of both the dead and the living that Jesus died and rose to life. In the end it is to His Lordship that I will bow and "then each of us will give an account of himself to God." (see Romans 14:1-12)
September 3, 2011
there is no authority except from God
I was in second grade (my best guess) when the infamous Cuban guerilla known worldwide simply as Chˇ walked off the DC-3 that came weekly to our little Bolivian town with his suitcase in hand. Over a short period of time he gathered around himself a contingent of revolutionaries, followers conned into believing the democratic republic of Bolivia would work better if it was ruled by the people under a communist system. (What he didnÕt tell them was that when power changed, it would not be they but an elite team chosen by CubaÕs Fidel Castro and his ŅbossesÓ in the Soviet Union that would indeed be in power and in the name of communism suck the people dry of all their productivity and national identity. OK, so you get my slant, but look at the former Soviet Union and China and North Korea and Cuba to see just how free the people are.) I donÕt remember if we were just sent home from school or if Dad came to school to get us that particular day the FAB (Fuersa Aerea Boliviana Š Bolivian Air Force) decide it was time to flush Chˇ and his minions from the mid-altitude forests. I do remember the next few terrifying hours. Dad had us stand with our backs to the wall, but not just any ordinary wall. It was the wall that separated our worship sanctuary from our living room (and the church fellowship hall). The wall was compacted earth three feet thick and ten feet high and probably the safest place to stand, our backs toward the air strip we called our airport, our backs toward the hiding rebels, our backs toward the strafing shots fired from the back of the wings of P-51 Mustangs flown by the FABÕs best pilots. So was I introduced to governments and the struggles within governments and the desires of men to be in control.
It was indeed many years later, and I have no way of knowing how many years later it was, that I first and many times since then have been taken to the words written by Paul to the Christians in Rome, a Rome where soon they would be fodder for gladiators and lions and tigers and bears (yes, please resist the Ņoh, myÓ), a Rome where soon their impaled and crucified bodies would line the highways into the city, a Rome where they would burn, human torches to light the CaesarÕs feasts.
I donÕt pretend to understand how it is, or why, that God allows the rise and fall of governments both good and bad, of rulers both benevolent and evil. What I do know is that GodÕs unchanging, fully reliable, infallibly true Word speaks to us His providence and His ultimate and perfect rule over the nations of the earth. I do know that Ņthere is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.Ó I certainly donÕt always, and maybe in our days (are we close to the last days) almost never, like what passes for the authority in government. And, once again I must be shoved into my place and acknowledge once again that I am but creature, and bow once again before the authority of the One who created all things, the One who redeems all things by grace through faith, the One who alone is God.