Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Person of Courage

Gerhard von Raad – an Old Testament professor at Jena, Germany during the terrible years of WW 2 - an opponent of Hitler, when most of the faculty signed on the dotted line, with medical students being trained in pathology at Buchenwald.

His colleagues quickly became Nazi sympathizers – aiding and abetting the effort to “nationalize” the Christian faith, to make it an instrument of the state, and most pointedly, to deny the Jewish ancestry of Jesus and eliminate Hebrew words like “hosannah” and “halleluja” from creeds and hymns – thus ridding the church of everything Un-German.

Jena became the first to eliminate the study of Hebrew for theology students.

When key colleagues “retired,” von Raad stood alone. He taught and wrote, but with fewer student – his Psalms course, only four.

The Confessing Church (author of the Barmen Declaration in our Book of Confessions) responded by sending students to Jena to make certain von Raad would have a classroom audience.

He survived the war and went on to finish a distinguished career, leaving a permanent mark on Old Testament studies and a witness to courage.

Over the years, I’ve met the quietly courageous.

A husband who visits his wife in a nursing home every day for years … a mother caring for a brain-damaged child. A corporate executive who leaves a high-paying position because of disagreement with corporate policy … a pastor who loses his pulpit because he addressed issues of racism in his deep-south church.

History will never record their stories, but they’re written in the annals of heaven, and if not influential for the many, then maybe just for you or for me.

Your story, too.

The daily courage to get up and get going, to keep on loving, to be prayerful and faithful, loving and kind.

The courage:
To face yourself and try to change.
To think long and hard about life, political issues, our nation and the candidates.
To forgive someone who’s hurt you deeply.
To read widely and ponder much.
To live with questions rather than settle for shoddy answers.
To believe that life is sacred and all creatures are of God.
To dream large and imagine a better world for all.
To embrace peace rather than war.
Love rather than suspicion.
Openness rather than fear.

No one is courageous all the time, but everyone I’ve known has been courageous some of the time, and mostly at just the right time – such is the human heart!

Remember, you are a person of courage!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Doing Good Today

Are you doing good today?

Questions like this intimidate us. We tend to think of everything we’re not doing. Or maybe we’re practicing some form of humility – “Oh no, I would never speak too highly of myself.”

But I like to think small on this question.

Think about it.

You let someone cut in front of you, and you didn’t explode.
You were patient in the checkout line.
You said your prayers today.
You were kind to a stranger.
You wrote out a check to a charity.
You read your Bible.
You read the newspaper and prayed for the poor and the sad.
You searched your heart and found God there.
You said a gentle word to an irritating co-worker.
You asked yourself some good questions.
You forgave someone.

To miss the good is to miss God!
Pay attention to the Spirit at work in your life.
Shaping you.
Forming you.
Expressing God’s love through you.

At the end of the day, make a mental list of the good you did.
And sleep well.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Travel Well

One of life’s greatest temptations – backwards travel.

Sure, we have regrets – the kick-me-in-the-butt kind of regrets, the shoot-me-now-please kind of regrets, the missed-opportunity-what-a-dingbat-I-was regrets, the opened-my-stupid-mouth kind of regrets. Who doesn’t?

We have sad memories of wrongs, real or perceived, done to us.

We’ve got drawers full of memories.

Have you noticed, the top drawers of memory are usually filled with dark socks, and they’re the first drawers we open in the morning. Easy to get stuck wearing the same ideas, and rehashing the same memories.

Like Jesus, we try resurrecting our Lazarus-memories from the grave, but the memories we raise mostly stink – Jesus raised Lazarus to life, but our memories are best left in the grave of time.

How to deal with a memory that won’t let go?

Face it for what it is: it’s ugly, smelly and dysfunctional.
Confess it (your share in it).
Then give it up to God with deep and consistent surrender, trusting the promise of God to be at work in all things for good.

Then get on with the rest of your life. Put the car in gear, head forward, because the windshield to see where you’re going is a whole lot larger than the rearview mirror.

By God’s grace, there’s always a new adventure just around the corner – a new person to meet, a new book to read, a new faith-dimension to explore, another prayer to lift up, and always Sunday in God’s House.

And on the deepest level of all, heaven … something I cannot conceive of right now, but the essential promise of Jesus – the journey never ends. There’s always one more adventure ahead of us.

Travel well my friends … wave goodbye to the best and the worst; let God deal with all the unresolved stuff of life. God does a far better job it then we ever could. In the end, I pray, we will lay our heads down one last time, and awaken in the bright and warm light of God. The journey never ends!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Sunday Adventure

We love to explore, and I love to take my wife on adventures, especially when she hasn’t a clue.

Sunday, we had such an adventure.

I write because our adventure involved something important for Los Angeles. Something found in good cities around the world and here in the US of A.

Our adventure began with a quick drive to the LAX/Aviation Blvd. Station and a ride on the Green Line to the Imperial/Wilmington Station, the transfer point to the Blue Line. Then on to the city, enjoying the city landscape – homes and warehouses, stores and soccer fields; kids with their bikes and skate boards getting on the train to meet friends and check out one another; mothers with children – families out for the day - then arriving in downtown LA at the 7th Street and Figueroa Station.

We left the train and headed to the surface. Strolling past the famed No. 28 Fire Station, now a restaurant (Bill, remember our lunch there last August?), we made our way to the Westin Hotel, which much have been designed by the same architect who the did the Renaissance Center in Detroit, formerly a Westin Hotel and now GM Headquarters. After a drink and a hors d’oeuvre, we returned to the Station and got on to the Red Line to Universal City, at which point, my wife asked, “Are we getting off in Universal City?”

Along Hollywood Blvd., with station stops at Vine and Highland, we picked up speed to pass under the Santa Monica Mountains, to arrive quickly at the Universal City Station.

Across the street from the station, we boarded the free Shuttle to take us up the hill to Universal City. There, we strolled this bustling tourist attraction, hearing all kinds of languages and seeing the world in all of its relaxed delight. At every turn, a restaurant or a store – and children by the ton, with lots of giggles and smiles, and a few tears when Mom or Dad had to say No!

For dinner, we settled on the Hard Rock Café and a huge plate of Nachos. On the wall, a guitar from one of our favorite performers, Willie Nelson.

Satisfied and in high spirits, we retraced our steps back home.

Throughout our ride, stations were clean and folks friendly; cars well-kept, comfortable and mostly crowded. No doubt, thousands of folks use the trains, and likely more these days in view of oil prices.

I hope LA can expand the system, including the Subway to the Sea.

For thousands of people, public transportation is vital to their wellbeing, and I believe vital to the wellbeing of an entire metropolis. I think of the “L” in Chicago, the subways of New York City, Boston, Toronto and Washington D.C. where the poor and the wealthy “ride the rails” together every day.

Thanks LA – we had a great Sunday adventure.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Our Part of the Bargain

From Psalm 63:8

My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.

Throughout the story of our faith, a partnership with God. Though God remains the “senior partner” (the Presbyterian, or Calvinist, side of the story), we, too, have a genuine role to play (the Methodist, or Arminian, side of the story).

God’s right hand – the ruling, governing, caring and comforting, hand of God upholds us – through thick and thin, sick and sin. “I will never let you go” (Romans 8:37-39) is the love of God for us, in life and in death, now and forevermore.

God’s hand upholds … our soul clings – our follow-through.

Daily I learn that my faith in Christ, my walk with God, my journey through life, is enriched when I’m following through.

The follow-through of faith: in some ways, simple: prayer, Bible reading, devotional/theological reading, faithful in worship, fellowship with believers, striving with all our might to love one another as Jesus loves us.

But then the follow-through grows a bit more complex: being a witness to others, in word and deed. Striving for justice and the wellbeing of our neighbor. As a Christian recently put it – “I’m tired of feeding and clothing the poor; I want to do something about the conditions that produce hungry and ill-clothed people.”

Yet even as I strive to fulfill my part of the bargain, I realize time and again “how far short of the glory of God I fall” (Romans 3:32).

So I’m glad to be a Presbyterian, because this much of it, I believe, we have right – a solid and unyielding reliance on grace … and it’s Biblical to boot – So it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God who shows mercy (Romans 9:16).

See ya’ in God’s House tomorrow, and we’ll hear a little more about Romans and the Apostle Paul – a man passionate for God!