Thursday, September 29, 2011

Frank and Louie and the Hope of Unbelief

The day after I preach a sermon, I always find the perfect story, illustration, or clarifying point to go with it. It seems to be a little joke between me and God. It could be that I always quit reading one article, magazine,  or commentary too soon. It may be God's way of humbling me and keeping me a little off balance. ("Heavenly Father, I really don't need any help staying off balance. I do fine with that on my own.") Anyway, it has been a good week in that I didn't find the better story until three days after the sermon. The better story to parallel the sermon on Mark 9: 14-29 is about Frank and Louie, a cat. Yes, this cat has two names and the accompanying picture explains why. Frank and Louie has two faces. I wonder if he gets 18 lives?
Frank (on the left) and Louie lives  (singular verb) in Massachusetts and recently set a record for the oldest living Janus cat. The name comes from the Roman mythological fellow with two faces. One cat with two faces, can that really be?  But it is true and has been for Frank and Louie for twelve years. Believe me, I can relate and I believe that the father from Mark 9: 9-29 can also. When asked if he believed that Jesus could heal his demon possessed\ epileptic son his reply was classic: "I believe, help Thou my unbelief!" Like most of us some of the time and some of us all the time, the father believed but his trust wasn't complete, fully orbbed, wholly mature. He knew his son was in a bad way and found someone he thought could help and expressed what we all feel so well. He had hope, he had trust but it was mixed with some fear and doubt. He had what I call the hope of unbelief. I know that hope and unbelief are not suppose to go together. They are oxymororic. In the church we teach and preach that belief helps us to hope; belief ties us to hope whereas unbelief shrouds hope, chokes hope and finally kills it. We leave little room for doubt. In the church we are certain, sure, confident, strong and determined. Except...except when we're not. We're not sure the kids will turn out ok; we're not sure the disease will be cured; we 're not sure the marriage will make it; we not sure the money will hold out; we're not sure God heard our cries. I believe, Help Thou my unbelief. The hope of unbelief is this: that doubt can change: unbelief can give way to belief; doubt can be usurped by faith, fear can be dominated, cast out by love.Thank-you nameless-face-in-the-crowd father of an epileptic child desperately seeking help. We hear you. We feel you. In so many ways, we are you. Believing but not always sure, trusting but seeing doubt clouds on our horizons, knowing God can but also knowing that God doesn't always...Help thou my unbelief. Dr. Bill Self once wrote, "Doubt is like the front porch. All of us go through it before we get inside the house of faith."  Now we see as through a glass darkly; but then face to face. Now I know in part; but then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. In the passing of time and the growth in Jesus, the face of doubt fades little by little till it sees no more.  So Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight, the clouds be rolled back as a scroll, the trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend, even so it is well with my soul. Don't worry about being two faced like Frank and Louie. Bring both faces to Jesus with all your hopes and all your doubts and surrender them to his care. He knows how to sort them out.

Till We Have Faces, (sorry Mr. Lewis)Cos                                                                                                                                                                              

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Swiss Cheese and the Christians

I just finished lunch. I made a good sandwich. I think it could have been better. I had provolone cheese which was good but I think Swiss would have added a bit more twang to the sandwich. Good but could have been better.

Maybe its just the crowd I'm around but it appears to me that every one's life has some aspect of it amiss or missing or that could be better. Somethings wrong, out-of-balance, broken, askew, or as my west Texas friend used to say "whomperjawed." Just listen to folks for five or ten minutes and you will hear it. It usually doesn't come across as direct complaint, more of an observation or a lament. If a guy has four kids you can almost bet that one or two of them has a frustrating or hurtful problem. If a person has a high paying job you will hear it is also highly stressful or so time consuming that she can't enjoy the fruit of her labors. A lady may have a great business but senses distance in her marriage. A guy may have a great marriage but finds that the cash flow in his start-up taco truck is depressing.  A pitcher may have a great fastball but still have trouble with his change-up (Mr. Ogando?). A pastor may be a great administrator (I've heard they exist) but have trouble getting along with people. You name the person, the career, and the circumstances and sooner of later you will see that the very best ones still have holes in their lives.

In a fallen world it is nearly impossible to get it all together, keep it all together, or remember where you put it if ever you do. Why is that? One reason is that we are a broken people in a broken world. Things don't always work and rarely even look perfect. Yet, in the hands of the right person, even broken pieces are made into a beautiful mosaic. In the skilled hands of some folks, leftover and unmatched material make keepsake quilts. This happens in the craft room and in life.

Another possibility is that the lack of being able to get everything together for very long keeps us mindful of our need for Jesus. Be honest---do you pray as fervently now as you did about finances when you were twenty-eight, had a sick baby, the car insurance was due, and the washing machine was broken? Things broken can keep us humble and thankful. They also remind us that we are all in the same boat. The guy next door may appear to have the world by the tail, but his health is compromised and he's still really lost without Jesus. What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul? That lady in Bible Study tells great stories about her 4.0 student but rarely mentions the absentee husband. The kid can bench press 415, run a 4.5, and still has a 3.4 gpa, and he hopes that his alcoholic mom forgets to come to the games after what happened last season. Life is a contact sport and it can get pretty rough. But since every one of us has something out-of-whack, we probably ought to go easy on each other with a little less judgemental ism, be a lot more encouraging, and be a lot more prayerful.

We are all a bit like Swiss cheese. We all gots holes, but holes and all, we can make life more flavorable. And you know what else? Holes are the places Jesus comes into our lives. For a long time He has been pretty good at taking our hole-y lives and making us wholly His.

...until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ...  Eph. 4:14

Holey to Holy,

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Strengthen What Remains

The tenth anniversary of 9/11 is upon us. The fact that I can write 9/11 and you know what I am referencing speaks in and of itself to a life changing day. To "the greatest generation" you can ask them about Pearl Harbor Day and they will tell you about the events of Dec. 7, 1941. It changed them. It changed the world as 9/11 has done for this generation.

Everyone is writing, speaking, remembering, and commemorating the day on the airwaves, the print media, and now in social media. This is as it should be.  I, personally, have not been able to string together one stream of thought to form an article for this medium. My thoughts start in one place and run to another. Frankly, I remember having the same problem ten years ago on 9/11. I couldn't and can't get my mind around this attack. I didn't have a very extensive vocabulary for terrorism, radical Islam, enhanced safety measures and war that was brought to our shores back then. It is still strange today, unfortunately, less strange.  But I've pulled together a few of my scattered thoughts on this new reality.

* Evil is real. 9/11 is not a case of normally good people having a bad week or month. Deadly, hateful, destructive evil was loosed on America that day. It has happened before, it will happen again, and is happening today in this world to various individuals, peoples, and nations. The consequences of sin in a fallen world affects every single person on the planet. If we didn't know it before, we know it now--there are dark, sinister, evil forces at work in this world.
*Children born in the last 14 or 15 years have no emotional nor visual memory of 9/11. The few exceptions are the ones who lost loved ones. The kid who was 2 or 5 or not born views 9/11 like I did Pearl Harbor Day or San Jacinto Day. I think this is good. They learn from parents, teachers, and media that something bad happened and they should learn about its history but life went on and they have been able to enjoy it for the most part. Bad, even evil, horrible times can be gotten through and overcome.
*Silence is a viable response to tragedy. Sometimes silence in the face of grief is the first and best response. No words are big enough to cover the kinds of pain 9/11 birthed. In time, silence can envelope it in grace. In time, after the tears have fallen, words begin to form from a place that is bigger than our pain. Ideally, this Place of largeness is the very Presence of God himself and this Greatness of Presence gives rise to hope, courage, nobility, and love. And yet, if words don't come, all these qualities can still be expressed in thoughts and actions.
*When the honest questions of  'why' are asked about people, evil, war, and God, "I don't know" is an honest response. It doesn't clear up all mysteries but we will not get out of this life having cleared up all its mysteries. We live by faith, not by sight the Apostle Paul tells us. The most important things are never seen with physical eyes anyway. Why doesn't God stop.... why doesn't God do more.... why doesn't God.....? I don't always know, but from what I know of Jesus and faith tells me that one day I will.
*There are lessons to be taken away from ground zero and all the "ground zeros" of life. Lessons about evil, good, perseverence, pain, overcoming, courage, faith, forgiveness and redemption are there in the rubble and are taken away in cleaning up the rubble. With these life is then built.
*I try to make 9/11 personal. I was a thousand miles away and knew no one in the Pentagon, Pennsylvania, or the twin towers. It hurt. It caused fear, anger, resentment, doubt, and a hundred other emotions and thoughts. So I read the biographical information of victims on the internet or when they are shown on television. I get to know the soldiers killed in action in Afghanistan or Iraq through the local newspapers or wherever I find their stories. This hurts frankly. But I need this hurt. It keeps 9/11 real. It keeps the wars that 9/11 spawned closer. It keeps prayers more fervent. It instills thankfulness for goodness and the sacrifices made for me and mine. It helps to identify with other human beings hurting and helps keep life sacred. So I watch the ESPN video of the Man in the Red Bandana. It hurts but I am thankful for his bravery. I look deeply as I can into the eyes of Cpl. Roberts' picture on tv when his sacrifice is highlighted and tear up when his funeral procession is shown from the airport to the church. I recite John Dunne's "For Whom the Bell Tolls" and remind myself that ''no man is an island..." The war on terror and the spiritual  warfare to which all Christians are called must remain personal.
*We are at war in Afghanistan and Iraq and fighting terrorism on physical, intelligence and financial fronts. We must continue this. We will not win this war by these means. This is a spiritual war and it must be fought and won on our knees. People need salvation and that comes only in a relationship with Jesus. The church must fight by prayer and mission endeavors. Jesus is the hope for our world. The church needs to act like it believes this and live accordingly.
*Keep going forward. Until the final trumpet is sounded and the final word of history is spoken keep moving forward, even at a snail's pace if that is what can be managed but keep going forward. Evil, destruction, pain, sin and death will not have the final word, Jesus does. So keep going until He tells you to stop.

Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God.  Revelation 3:2