March 29, 2009
I hope it speaks to your heart.
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only." – Charles Dickens, "A Tale of Two Cities"
The one thing Jesus would never do was go out of His way to prove His credentials. He was not enamored with self-promotion. He understood that His life and death would eventually speak for themselves to those inclined to believe. In Matthew 13:38-50, He is resisting the pressure to make His ministry about impressing people who wanted a flamboyant religious demonstration.
Instead, He informs the people what to look for in His future – three days of death followed by something unexplainable and earth changing.
Then, He turns the focus to how people respond to great opportunity and how the greater the opportunity, the more profound the responsibility to act upon it. He cites the judgment as one example. He appeals to their sense of historical disgust to claim that those who have been labeled the most despicable of the past will have something to say about the generation that neglected the very embodiment of Kingdom hope in their midst.
He calls attention to those who are delivered from demonic possession and oppression who do not exercise their freedom to fill the empty places in their lives once delivered. He lets us know that missed opportunity in that regard can lead to a worse condition than that from which the person has just been released.
We have all relapsed to something and we have all experienced the worsening that accompanies the neglect of fresh new found freedom.
He concludes with an embrace and a snub. He snubs members of His earthly family who feel they can interrupt His work just because of their familial ties. He embraces those who stand with Him in Kingdom purpose and who themselves embrace the immediacy of the Kingdom and all the opportunities it affords.
For me, the message is clear. Opportunity can be very dangerous.
It is dangerous if we are so stubborn in our disbelief that any opportunity exists at all. The opportunity truly is present and we can miss the moment. It may not come again. Some might see these as dark days when sudden miracles are required to confirm our faith. Jesus suggested that the darkness was itself a sign of opportunity. He would be like Jonah in the belly of the fish. Few could or would expect resurrection so they ask for lesser signs – magical demonstrations of no consequence. Perhaps these days are what are necessary for that which God would have emerge from our collective lives. It is dangerous to avoid all danger and, as a result, avoid opportunities that only show themselves in precarious times.
It is very dangerous because it calls for a simple decision and we hate simple decisions. Jesus simply asks us to recognize that one greater than Solomon is among us and follow Him in such a radical manner that there is no question as to who we are and where we stand. That sort of radicalism will not please very many. It will disturb most of those who call themselves Christian (and may well be Christians) as well as all who prefer to insure stability and predictability in our collective life. The call to follow Jesus is about stepping into the unknown and stripping ourselves bare of our cherished preconditions. It is the signing of a blank check with God and running headlong into the adventure of a counter cultural movement of grace.
It is a serious danger because things can get worse. We come to the unknown miracle worker to be delivered of our persistent and pernicious demons and are set free. That is when the opportunity begins because we have not been saved to stagnate in gratitude or relax in the river of redemption. Our deliverance from the maligning powers of destruction is purposeful. We are then to fill our lives with mission, and meaning. We are to drink deeply from the fountain of grace and be transformed through the renewing of our minds as we present our empty bodies to the one who fashioned them with a unique and wonderful purpose in mind. A vacuum will always be filled. There are no vacant lives for long. Evil is as opportunistic and malevolent as God is opportunistic and benevolent. If we don't say "yes" to God in the moment of opportunity, inertia will fill our lives with negative thoughts and choices.
Finally, it is dangerous because there is a special distinction for those who seize the moment to learn from Jesus and follow Him in the adventure of faith. It is the danger of being sidelined and marginalized because we have excluded ourselves from the true inner circle of intimacy with the Master. While it was the religious establishment who sought to sensationalize the movement and manipulate it toward their own ends, It was Jesus' own family that sought to call Him away from His work and define His life in ways that would be more conventional and acceptable for a nice religious young man of His day. They could have joined in, but they chose to distract.
Danger and opposition comes from all sides – friends and foes.
The Kingdom is present because the king is present. These are days of unprecedented opportunity for the church, but I fear a great danger lurking in the shadows. It is the danger of settling for business as usual, by putting on really good shows, for designing occasional wowing experiences for our more sensitive disciples, and by failing to be shaped into the radicals we are meant to be. It is the danger of not embracing the right kind of danger and taking God-inspired risks. It is the danger of not dreaming of a reality outside the belly of the fish. It is the danger of celebrating our liberation and leaving our housed empty and unattended.
But it can also be a wonderful time – the best of times. Dickens had it right about his time and about ours. It is always the day of great opportunity and that can be very dangerous.
What is emerging from this frenzied emergency?
Is it focused action built upon predetermined objectives, rooted in enduring principles? Or is it reactive and mindless flailing after perceived winds of crisis?
Is it urgent? If so, what is the source of the urge? Is it essential? Then of what is it the essence?
Things are not always as locked in as they seem. This is the soil in which I will prayerfully dig at the crest of a new day. Perhaps I will hit bedrock and build my day on that. Perhaps I will still be digging at midnight. If so, there will be hope for a fruitful tomorrow. In the meantime, I'm going for today.
God is with us as we think and that awareness lays the foundation of prayer. It is bringing God into our thoughts, though He is never far off, and thinking in concert and conversation with God. Prayer focuses us and directs us as God grounds us.
With enough prayer, we can know our urges, sort them, trust them, and be guided by them without allowing them to rule us.
With enough prayer, essentials will be discerned more clearly based upon the essence of what and who we are in relationship with Him who is eternal in nature and purpose.
With enough prayer, something enduring and purposeful will emerge from each emergency in profound contrast to the knee jerk reactive thinking of our precarious times.
With enough prayer, we will waste less time and accomplish more than we thought we could.
So, while there are no guarantees of immediate results, I am going to dig a bit in prayer, assured that the emergency is just part of the process of something being born through me and may not be what it seems on the surface.
D = Dig for DEFINITION. If we can't name it, we can't claim it. If we can't wrap our minds around it, we need to keep seeking. Definitions must be held loosely in our hands and minds, but even a tentative definition of our issues can focus our attention on positive outcomes. It can also help us sort through the fluff that tends to dominate and waste less time, energy, and resources on lesser goals.
I = Dig for INSIGHT. Just as there may be far more dark matter in the universe than known and observable matter, there is far more that we are yet to know than we now know and far more that we will never know in this life than is possible to grasp. However, a glimmer of insight into ourselves, our times, other people, and the meaning of our circumstances through the knowledge of the Holy Other can catapult us to far better decisions today than the ones we made yesterday.
G = Dig for GRATITUDE. When prompted by crisis to act and act now, focus often diverts to self-interest and survival. We might be very successful at survival while utterly failing at the purpose of our survival. We have lived another day without really living at all. We have added nothing to our world. Real accomplishment is rooted in gratitude for what has been given. Gratitude is the human response to divine grace. It receives, gives, and gives thanks. It loosens our belts without letting our slacks fall to our socks. It relaxes us while it energizes us. The attitude of gratitude seasons our legitimate and holy discontent with enough flavor to make our work palatable and productive. If I am having difficulty being grateful at the beginning of this day, I just need to dig a little deeper.
So that is what I. have been given this day to direct my day.
This is a moving and powerful statement with built-in credibility on the power of Jesus' love and forgiveness.
Continue to pray for this family and church.
Paul Harvey also died a few days ago.
I could always hear his bright smile over the radio waves, the enthusiastic way he inflected, "news," and his warm sign off, "good day." He has signed off now.
I guess whatever questions remained for Paul, he now knows, "the rest of the story."
Paul Harvey, "good day!"
I have just received word from my old friend, Rick Via, that our mutual friend and father in ministry, Oden E Lockhart, died on February 24 after a brief illness at the age of 91.
Some may remember the tribute I wrote to "The Old Time Preacher Man" back in 2007 on the occasion of his 60th anniversary of ministry and continuous broadcasting on radio stations around the Appalachian region.
Rick informs me that "The Preacher" was still conducting his radio ministry up until the time of his death.
He was an encourager to me for 35 years. I will miss him. "Well done, Thou good an faithful servant," applies.