When Everything’s Collapsing? The Ancient Paths

IMG_0229It’s been a week.  In the normally limp and newsless lazy days of late August, our senses have been assaulted by horrific images, at home and abroad.  We’ve learned that the Syrian government is exterminating their own people, and that options of intervention run the risk of a full scale attack of Israel, an event which puts the middle east, and hence the world, in a heightened state of vulnerability – more ready to burst into flames than a California forest.

Meanwhile, our pop culture offers one of it’s stars at a music awards show and we’re struck with the realization that nobility, inspiration, edification, and real beauty are all lying on the ash heap of a previous era.  In their place, we’re offered objectified and sexualized bodies, bawdy lyrics, and the stark realization that our cultural “elite” have played their hand, declaring that this is, and will be, the new lower norm.  CNN’s elevation of the event to front and center news is newsworthy in its own right because the huge spike in readership for this “news” over any real news reveals the depths of depravity  (yes, it’s an Onion article, because truth is sometimes best told through satire) to which our collective culture is rapidly sinking.

It’s tempting to respond to all of it by turning off all media and withdrawing to a cave, or a fundamentalist church that’s working on personal purity and self-fulfillment while waiting for Jesus to come fix it all.  Nope: that’s a false hope leading to disengagement and private faith.   It’s tempting too, to mobilize, aligning ourselves with campaigns to reign in the crass media, and make sure our military, and Israel’s are both strong enough, not only to win the impending wars, which could be massive, but also the wars that will happen AFTER the wars are won, because God only knows who will fill the power vacuum in a new Syria.  It will become Egypt 2.0, only worse.  Nope: that’s false anger, leading to public rage, and more fear based responses.

How about this instead?

Thus says the LORD, “Stand by the ways and see and ask for the anciengt paths, Where the good way is, and walk in it; And you will find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’ – Jeremiah 6:16

What are these ancient paths that will enabling us to know peace, beauty, hope, in the midst of the meltdown?

1. They are paths that take intimacy with God seriously.  Jeremiah lived in similar days, when people couldn’t look outside or inside without getting depressed or overwhelmed.  When all hell breaks loose, whether personally, culturally, or globally, it will be good to already have habits that take intimacy with God seriously.  This was Jeremiah’s point in my favorite Bible verse, found here.  He said that no other pursuit is worthy of “boasting”, which is a way of saying that nobody really cares about the car you drive, or the mountains you’ve climbed (corporate or literal), and neither, in the end, should you.  Your real joy, real meaning, ultimately should have intimacy with God at its foundation.  He’s the one who, as Jeremiah says, “practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth…”  Make knowing God a priority, and God’s priorities become yours.  You’re called, in the midst of all this insanity, to look like Jesus, and you will, as a by product of making intimacy with God your main priority.  We won’t always have economic prosperity, national greatness, physical strength – but we’ll always have our relationship with God – right up to our dying breath, and beyond.

Knowing God means looking for revelation from God everywhere, as I’ll write about later next week.  But to begin with, everyone needs a lens through which to look at everything differently.  Acquiring this lens comes by making a habit of listening for God’s voice in a daily encounter.  If you need help with that, let me suggest this resource, or this one, or this one.

I rise early, make my coffee, open my bible, sit in the forest, receive God’s revelation, pray a bit – and get on with my day.  Over time, I’m gaining a perspective on reality that’s different, more hopeful, less fearful.  I wish the same for you!

2. It’s a path that looks around and does something.  It’s easy, when the bottom drops out, to allow our concerns to shrink until our concerns become nothing more than our personal peace and safety.  Jeremiah, though, writing to people in the midst of a world (and culture) gone mad, writes:  “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” 

This is Jeremiah’s way of saying that hand wringing, and moaning, whining and withdrawing into our Christian ghettos to talk about how the world’s all “gone to hell”, or spinning conspiracy theories about birth certificates or NSA wire tappings or whatever it is that Limbaugh’s saying today isn’t, in any way, the Christian life.  Rather, the Christian life means being the presence of Jesus, right where you are, which means:

Giving stuff away, throwing a party for the neighbors, visiting someone in the hospital, spending time with children, mentoring a young mom, or young teen, serving in a homeless shelter, planting a garden, making beautiful music or art or great coffee, visiting someone who’s lonely, spending quality time with your grown children, or o so much more.

The days ahead don’t look very bright from my chair.  Years ago, though, I read this about that:

Light a candle instead of cursing the darkness.   

Good idea… I think I will.

Lessons from Daniel and Esther: Know Your King or Miss Your Point

ImageThe convergence of my daily Bible readings and a memorial service for my dear friend have me thinking about how much richer are lives can be if we all align around the one true thing that matters, which is Jesus Christ and his glorious reign.

Daniel and Esther are two personalities in Israel’s history who understood that they will gladly serve the king, and work for the good of kingdom in which they find themselves, but not at the cost of obedience to their one true King, Jehovah.  This is why Daniel openly defies the king’s edict by praying to Jehovah, not in secret, but in full view of his open window, as a means of declaring that there’s only One to which we’re called to offer unrestrained allegiance.  Esther risks her life by standing before the king, unbidden, fully realizing that by doing so she’ll either be invited in or executed.  Her reason for this bold move?  Mordecai, a Jew, refused to bow down to the powers of state because he believed that his allegiance was ultimately to God.  Neither nation, nor any political party (Republican, Democrat, Green, Other) or ideology (socialist, libertarian, monarchists, tea people, coffee people, “free” market capitalists, Other) will ever embody the reign of Christ.  Because of this, we have one true king, one true kingdom, one true citizenship, and it’s not related to our flag or borders – it’s related to Jesus.

Meanwhile, as I read Esther this morning and write this piece, I’m mindful of my global Torchbearer family gathering to grieve the loss of our dear friend and remarkable teacher/leader, Hans Peter Royer.  My daughter eulogized his life eloquently here recently.  Today, missing my friends, I’m pondering the privilege of being in a community bound together, truly, by fellowship in Christ alone.  Our common purpose is Christ; declaring him as the only source of life, inviting people to live out from his resurrection power, and seeking to disciple people into a life of making his good reign visible through relationships and service in our broken world.  These things matter more than anything – and as long as they do, we enjoy rich fellowship and unity of purpose in spite of our vast differences.

Differences?  Yes!  Under the surface of our united grief today there are many cultures and hence, ways of living together as nations.  For example, many devout Christ followers in Europe favor universal health coverage and shudder at thought that there’s a nation where people are walking the streets carrying weapons.  Devout Christ followers in America often hold exactly the opposite views in the name of freedom of responsibility.  Meanwhile, these arguments, on both sides, seem elitist and esoteric to those who are busy preaching Christ in places where the threat of terror hangs over their locations daily.   When we’re together we speak of Christ and his reign, speak of how we’re working together to make that reign visible, call each other to deeper Christ commitments.

But never, unless we happen to be skiing together in Austria on the very day of an elementary school shooting spree in Connecticut, do we talk about gun control.  Even then, when we do, and Austrians shake their heads at our addiction to “freedom” even as some Americans shake theirs at the Europeans readiness to give up such rights – we don’t baptize our views in the gospel of Christ.

Does this mean there’s never a time to be political?  Far from it.  Christ followers have an absolute obligation to do justice and love mercy.  This requires addressing systemic issues that contribute to poverty, violence, and oppression.   But here’s the critical thing to see: We’re called to do this in the name of Jesus, not in the name of a party, or nation.  To the extent that we do, we’re able to dialogue about these things, think critically, prayerfully sharpen each other, and then go back into our cultures and truly “seek the welfare of the city in which we live” – all the while freed from the illusion that the ways of Babylon, or Gun Rights, or Universal Health Care are, inherently, Jesus’ ways.   We’ll be as suspicious of Huffington Post as Fox News

Jesus’ way will be most visible in this broken world when the people of God embody visible alternatives that are trans-national, trans-political, trans-racial – places where the poor and marginalized are valued, and earthly weapons are never the preferred solution to solving any problems, and people are given the opportunity to be freed from everything, ranging from human trafficking to the many addictions that enslave the prosperous.   This is hardly a call to some disembodied apolitical spiritism.  Rather, it’s a call to make God’s reign visible, at cost of our lives if necessary.  But no nation or kingdom or ideology in this world gets it right – democratics are no more the party of Jesus than the tea party.  We need to get over it.

Beer & Brats in Germany.  Chai and Dal-Bot in Nepal.  Croissants and Chardonnay in France:  Christ is there – loving, serving, blessing, and standing against the powers, in favor of THE POWER that is the source of life.  May we stand with Him, and in Him, and through Him – because nothing else matters.

If I could wish one thing for our churches these days, it would be that we’d return with due haste to the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ, and devote ourselves utterly to making Christ’s reign visible.  Everything else is chaff.