Thursday, October 27, 2005

Screaming at the Trees

A man named Ron came to our church one day with a family he kind of bumped into. You see a young man came across him walking a road in his rural town. He came to understand that Ron was a homeless alcoholic. He lived in a tent in the woods of Worcester County, MA. The story that unfolds is the core of authentic Christianity. Be careful if you decide to read on. You just may learn that the most sacred acts in Christianity aren't that glamorous.

It wasn't long before the young man invited Ron to church. He accepted the invitation. So the young man arranged to pick him up in his car and take him with him. Now Ron is sitting in church with this young man, his wife and parents as well. The parents of the young man are great people with a heart to help. They invite Ron to their home for dinner not once but on several occasions.

In one instance they had invited Ron to come to church again but did not know for sure if he was coming. They were concerned about him not missing the ride so Denise, the young man's mother, went driving up the road approximately to where Ron's tent was pitched and slowed down. She rolled down her window and did the unthinkable...she yelled Ron's name at the top of her lungs. Now this might not seem abnormal but you must understand that there were no houses or apartments. It was just woods! Neighbors and passers by would probably wonder "what is up with this crazy lady screaming at the trees?"

Here's the best part of the story. Ron decided to become a disciple and follow the teachings of Jesus. This loving family bridged a gap between him and them. They helped feed him and encourage him. They found a treatment program called Teen Challenge where Ron agreed to go and be rid of alcoholism. They even bought clothes for him and drove him there and check up on his progress.

This reminds me of the story in the Bible of the Good Samaritan who found a guy almost dead on the road and, out of his own pocket, paid for some relief for the man who needed it. The down and out didn't have to qualify or measure up. The only thing that was prerequisite for the aid was the need.

I think it's time that more people get out of their comfort zones and start screaming at the trees. We might look a little crazy but to the people we're helping it is sure worth it.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Sleeping With The Enemy

Thirty nine years ago Charles Robert Jenkins walked into enemy territory in Korea and surrendered to the enemy. He left his squad, his commrades and his country behind. As he testified on 60 Minutes, he was scared to death and just wanted out of that situation. Who could really blame him? His logic was that if he gave himself over to the enemy, they would ship him to Russia and the U.S would deal with Russia to get him home. My question was "what on earth was he thinking?" He was imprisoned, made to study communist teachings for eight hours a day for about seven years. Every aspect of his life was ordered - even sexual intimacy - right down to the frequency, day and time! Talk about sleeping with the enemy! They found his U.S. Army tatoo and cut it out of his flesh with scissors. He was degraded and beaten. He became a shell of a man. Thirty nine years and a few months later he is telling his sad story with regret.

I think there are spiritual paralells to look at here. There is an enemy of all of us. Jesus referred to him as Satan. In the first book of Peter he is referred to as "our adversary". He goes about seeking who he may devour. How many times do Chirstians make deals with our enemy thinking it will turn out nice and rosie? When did it ever occur to us that the enemy wasn't that bad? When did we ever start thinking that the things that God said to stay away from were things we could dabble in? But we do because like Mr. Jenkins, we somehow get in our heads that even though it's the enemy, it'll turn out different for us. People somehow believe that because they stepped into trouble, it's God's obligation to "deal with the devil" and make things turn out right.

When a person puts themselves in the enemy's posession, don't be surprised when your plans for your life don't turn out like you thought.

We should all be reminded of first Peter 5:8 for it begins with a warning. "Be careful! Watch out for attacks from the Devil, your great enemy..." The context of this scripture was set in a church that was enduring some hard times. The writer was saying to "hang tough". He was also telling people to be humble and serve people and stick with the teachings of Jesus.

Like Mr. Jenkins, spiritually speaking, times can be tough. We can get weary doing the right thing all the time. We can get tired of fighting the good fight of faith. We can look at some of the temptations the enemy may present to us and think, "Yeah, I would like that. I need to escape this. It would be a refreshing change for once." Before we know it our refreshing change becomes a nightmare that lasts for years. We're slaves to something that we never wanted or ever thought could keep us tied up for so long. Think of the person you know who married the wrong person, took their first illegal drug, had that one night stand. You fill in the blank, whatever it is, harmless right? No problems on the radar screen right now but sure enough, if we walk across that line into enemy territory, things just might not turn out like we planned. So watch out and be careful the next time you think about "sleeping with the enemy." Just ask Mr. Jenkins. He sure has a story to tell.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Life With No Legs: When things don't turn out right

I wouldn't have believed it if I didn't see it. I've never seen a man with no legs play football. That's exactly what a recent issue of Sports Illustrated depicted. The young man ran with his hands quicker than you could imagine possible. There he was in the photo, helmet, jersey, legs! Where's the legs? I mean it literally looked like someone dug a hole on the ball field and put him in waist deep. By all standards, life didn't necessarily turn out like he wanted to at first.

The remarkable thing about this story is the positive outlook by this young football player. Although he was faced with the reality of being born with no legs, he did not take that as the final answer. He was at a disadvantage when it came to "normal" mobility. But that isn't how he was going to settle.

As I relate this to Christian spirituality, I think of people I know and love personally who were born to single-parent families, abused as children, neglected or suffered in other ways. I look at my own life and shortcomings. I observe people I know who are working hard, only to find out that life isn't turning out like they thought it would. They want to run the race but seem not to have the legs for it now.

So what does God expect of us? Psalm 103:13 says "The LORD is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him." Our responsibility in life as God's children is to fear God. We want his his compassion, his hope, his comfort? We must fear him. But before we jump to conclusions thinking that God only loves people who are afraid of him, let's look at what "fearing God" means. Psalm 128:1b says, "How happy are those who fear the LORD-all who follow his ways!"

So when life seems to leave you feeling "legless" and it's not turning out like you wanted it to, don't go walking away from the very source of your help. Instead of quitting and giving up on God, begin quieting yourself and looking up to God. When things aren't turning out right, turn right to the one who can really help you.

So, what does God really expect of us when life is giving us good and throwing us the bad? Listen to what Solomon said in Ecclesiastes 12:13, "Here is my final conclusion: Fear God and obey his commands, for this is the duty of every person." Don't tell yourself that you can't make it just because it doesn't look or feel like you can't. Just find another way to keep going. I heard there was this guy who was born with no legs. He runs with his hands!

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Salad Bar Christianity

Salad bars are a great addition to any restaurant. They have changed the dining experience altogether. You can go to a nice "sit down" restaurant and still enjoy a variety of items, eat light if you want and also choose to go "healthy". Of course if you want to forget all of that there is the wonder of a Chinese Buffet!

The great thing about a salad bar is that it can teach us a lot when relating it to our spiritual journey with Jesus. Think about it; salad bars offer the choice of whatever you want, the speed of a quick meal and convenience.

This brings me to my point about contemporary Christianity in America. There have been pockets of people, teachers, televangelist personalities etc. that have created a culture of Christianity that doesn't at all resemble the teachings of Jesus. We have been taught that God is there for us to get whatever we want, to have our prayers answered yesterday and all the while we don't have to alter our lifestyle one bit. Pick a teaching, be it tithing, serving, prayer, attending church, sacrificial living, sacrificial giving, putting others first etc. It's just not popular to teach what Jesus taught anymore.

Jesus' life and teachings embodied self-sacrifice. Remember, he DIDN'T WANT to go to the cross but he said to the Father, "Not my will but yours be done." Jesus didn't always rush to get things done for people when they wanted it. Remember his friend Lazarus? He let him die before he got to him. His sisters weren't impressed with that. And then there's the whole thought of Jesus the omnipresent, omnipotent Son of God for the first time ever, being confined to a physical body, being imprisoned by time and space. He died on a cross, the innocent for the guilty. He definitely altered his lifestyle a bit.

So go ahead and enjoy that salad bar! Pick and choose your favorites. Put on your plate whatever you want and leave off your plate what you will. But don't try to live your Christian life that way. I think Jesus would send us all back for a second trip.