Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Gratitude in a Not Quite Perfect Day

An Inkling
I would offer you a simple case study in applying Paul’s exhortation:  Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1 Thes. 5:18).
Sunday was rich in opportunity for our family to give thanks.  Heidi, our youngest granddaughter, was baptized at Christ the King Anglican Church in Alexandria, with lots of family gathered to celebrate.  What a great day!  And it matched a great day the previous week, when Heidi’s cousin, Keith, was baptized at First Presbyterian Church of Norfolk.  What a wonderful season for our family!  Gratitude comes easily in such moments.
But Sunday was also hard for gratitude.  Heidi’s two year old cousin, Caroline, fell just outside the church and broke her leg – not a happy moment for anyone.  Suddenly in an otherwise marvelous day, gratitude did not come so easily.
Some perspective on this came my way this morning via a weekly e-mail I get from Les and Cindy Morgan, physicians who serve in Bangladesh.  Each week they send an email prayer request for someone they know.  This week they asked prayer for Akash, a 17 month old orphan, whose mom recently died of tuberculosis, leaving him in the care of an aunt.  He was already badly malnourished and largely nonresponsive, and the care options are very limited.  What will become of him?  And how can one give thanks in that circumstance?
In contrast, little Caroline received excellent care from the get go: an aunt who is a doctor and helped on the spot, a top flight pediatric hospital emergency room, and now a well formed pink cast.  With the Morgans’ email before me, suddenly gratitude for little Caroline’s situation began to come more easily.
How has this worked for you?  With eyes open to God’s provision in every situation, and with a broad perspective on just how blessed we are in this country with all manner of provisions, gratitude can arise for us even on less than perfect days.
But for some situations I think we’ll have to await The Day that is fully perfect, when Jesus comes again.  Then, somehow, we’ll be able to see reasons for gratitude even in situations like Akash’s.  And in the meantime, looking to that day, we have hope – which brings its own flavor of gratitude in all circumstances!


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Clicks Count

An Inkling
I met Kenny for lunch yesterday, and since I was a bit early, I did what I often do – pulled out my phone and started reading.  When he arrived our conversation began with marveling at what’s available at our fingertips (literally) with such devices:  whole libraries of information and more.  With just a couple of touches I can read news headlines, last night’s scores, editorials, Facebook feeds from my friends, the Richmond Times Dispatch, or scripture.  And on most days I read some portion of all of those – available in my pocket!  Amazing!
But mixed in with the best is plenty of the worst.  News sites, whose revenue is based on clicks, always have stories designed to appeal to the worst in us.  And so, in addition to news headlines, on CNN this morning you can learn about the latest celebrity nude postings, and on Fox you can learn about how Obama’s Ebola Czar is off to a bad start.  If the appeal is not to lust, then it’s to contempt.  And next to those are appeals to fear and greed.
Would that such appeals had no pull upon us, but they do.  And thus the continuing wisdom of Paul’s ancient words:  Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things  (Phil. 4:8).
We make our choices, and then our choices make us.  How are you being formed by your clicks?


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Ebola With Different Eyes

An Inkling
Today’s headline reads:  Richmond Patient Isolated.  People are in isolation every day in every hospital of our city.  Why is this headline news?  Because the patient had visited Liberia and had a fever, and could possibly have Ebola.  And that makes headlines because Ebola breaks all of our rules.
Our rule of thumb is that uncontainable contagion only happens over there, not here in America.  And when someone from over there comes over here, we figure our superior medical resources will contain all perils.  But then the nurse in Dallas got Ebola despite all proper precautions, and we realized that this ailment is breaking our rules.  Now we read of a possible Ebola patient in Richmond, and that she had been to the CrossOver Clinic, the ministry at which we pray with patients for healing.  So Ebola is not so over there as it seems.
Already there are many issues rising, such as how best to keep medical personnel safe, and the liberty of individuals versus the public’s need for safety through the forced isolation of those exposed.  This is already an interesting (read “intense”) conversation, especially with multiple media fanning the flames of fear. 
We who follow Jesus bring a different set of eyes to this whole matter.  Paul wrote that we don’t “grieve as those who have no hope” (1 Thes. 4:13).  We can say the same for our caring.  And the basis for both is our secure resurrection life in Jesus. 
Our hope is not finally based on the invincibility of modern medicine, but upon our sure hope of resurrection life in Jesus.   It’s that hope which emboldens medical missionaries to go to Liberia.  It’s that hope which will embolden us to continue our ministries of prayer at CrossOver Clinic.  And it’s that hope which will give us a different tone of voice in the panic driven conversations arising around us.
In all of those ways may our hope-full caring point to the only One who can finally save us from Ebola and every other contagion!


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Really Big News

An Inkling
In a way it’s big news:  the Supreme Court refused to rule on marriage cases, thereby opening the way for same sex marriage in Virginia and elsewhere.  It’s big news in that it’s the top story in every paper.  But it’s not really news, in that it has been a foregone conclusion for some time – ever since our society bought the notion that it’s all about civil rights. 
Americans believe everyone should be treated equally.  Though equality is clumsily applied (see immigration issues, crimes on Wall St, etc), we really believe in it.  And that passion has trumped all other considerations in our understanding of marriage (e.g., well being of children, public health, the broadly practiced family patterns of humanity across the ages, etc).
So there it is.  How should we respond?  A full response goes beyond the bounds of a blog, but here are some brief suggestions, cast as what we will and won’t do.
We will love and befriend all who are willing to be our friends, both hetero and homosexual, both marriage traditionalists and revisionists.
We won’t back down from a gently stated but persistent affirmation of the plain teaching of scripture about marriage.
We will create a community of grace and truth, where Jesus followers flourish in God’s transforming power that reaches across the full breadth of life, including our sexuality. 
We won’t celebrate what God would redeem.
We will advocate for religious freedom.  This matter of constitutional rights is one public debate that is not already a foregone conclusion.
We won’t roll over as secularizing and marriage revisionist forces seek to reduce freedom of religion to a mere freedom of worship (i.e., you can do whatever you want in the four walls of your sanctuary, just don’t try to apply your beliefs to how you treat the unborn – see Catholic hospitals and the healthcare law – or how you run your business – see wedding caterers who are being sued for referring same sex couples to other caterers who can serve them in good conscience).  America’s passion for equal rights can and should extend to acts of religious conscience.
We will learn from Christians across the ages and the globe who have had more experience in living counter-culturally than we have.  We’re going to need it. 
We won’t panic.  Jesus is just as much Lord today as he was yesterday, and our final trust was never in the Supreme Court, our Constitution, or anything else but him.
That’s enough for now.  I’m planning a class and sermons for the winter in which we’ll be able to think together at greater length about such matters.
And in the meantime, let’s keep the “big news” in perspective.  The really big news happened 2000 years ago.  Ever since it’s been a foregone conclusion that Jesus’ lordship will finally determine the whole of life.  That’s the really big news around which we’re building our lives, and he’s given us the privilege of doing so in Virginia in 2014.  May he be praised!