It’s only four o’clock in the afternoon and already the sun is set in this chilly Finnish village. People have retreated indoors and circled like pioneers on a prairie around whatever light they can find. “Tonight,” (though its really only late afternoon), is the second time I’ve seen it in a month. The first was in Jamaica when hurricane Nicole took out the electricity and people fought through driving rain to gather around the glowing comfort of candles and companionship.
Light assures us. It gives substance to our existence, definition to our world, and faces to our friends. But not everyone loves it. The Apostle John, who rested his head on the chest of the One who IS light, explained that “Light has come into the world. But men loved darkness because their deeds were evil.” (John 3:19)
I mourn today for the multitudes who choose the darkness even in the presence of Light and Truth. You can tell the dark-souled ones by the fingers in the ears, the judgments they hurl, and the opinions so defiant and bold. These are the night people, the Pharisees and self-righteous who invent their own “light,” or the elder brothers who pout in the darkness, slander the singing and judge the joy.
As for me, I choose the Light who has stepped into our darkness. I hunger for the Truth who frees and refreshes along the way. I cheer in the glow of graceful companions, and wait patiently for my night-friends, (you know who you are), to peek through the door. Come in, my brothers. There’s a place in this circle for you.
For the past four months I’ve been piecing together a daily prayer to distill the intercession in my heart. It’s in a state of perpetual refinement, but even so it helps me to stay focused on the primary burdens I carry every day.
Let the beauty of Your character captivate our hearts
As your glad Kingdom is extended throughout the earth.
Send revival and reformation to the nations.
Raise up your glorious church,
And lay bare the enemy’s schemes of darkness.
Jesus Christ, I am Yours.
Save me to the roots of my being.
Change me where I need changed.
Strengthen me where I need strength.
And break me where I need to be broken.
All my sins, I send to the cross.
All my shame, I send to the cross.
All condemnation, I send to the cross.
And all of my hope I place in the risen Christ.
Work in me Your tender love towards all people;
Instruct me in wisdom, understanding, and insight,
And grace me to receive my inheritance in Jesus.
Teach me, Father, to be a faithful son.
Teach me, Jesus, to be a faithful friend.
And teach me, Holy Spirit, to be a faithful disciple.
Open my eyes to your Kingdom in all its goodness, truth, and beauty.
Give me grace to preach it with power,
To seek it with passion,
To serve it with honor,
And when the time comes, to suffer for it with joy.
For Your glory alone.
I tried something different this year for Christmas. Since I have everything a person could possibly need, I asked for my family to give donations to charity instead. And I was even more encouraged when they decided I could do the same for them. So at the end of the day, instead of having to figure out how to squeeze more clothes into my closet, or what to do with gifts I didn’t need, I had the joy of knowing that we had provided twelve chickens, a goat, ten mosquito nets, deworming medication for 2,000 children, and a contribution towards digging a well for the poor in Africa. Though it sounds like a lot, it really wasn’t. American money still goes a long way in Africa. It was the best Christmas since I was a kid.
I wrestled about posting this because of the idea of “losing my reward.” But at the end of the day, it’s not about a reward. It’s about caring for our starving brothers and sisters. I’m certain many, if not most of you reading this are involved in caring for the poor, but if this suggestion might inspire just one more person to take action, then that can make an eternal difference.
Here are a few stats:
- One Billion people worldwide have no access to clean drinking water.
- 25,000 – 35,000 people, (including 14,000 children), die every day of hunger-related causes. (That’s about one child every seven seconds).
- 2.6 billion people have no access to basic sanitation facilities.
- There are about 12 million AIDS orphans in Africa.
Tolerate: to allow the existence of without interference; to accept or endure with forbearance.
The architects of political correctness lecture us daily on our civic duty of tolerating those who are different. They might just as well say “Put up with people. Endure them. Allow them to exist.” What a loaded crock of doomed advice. That kind of begrudging cultural consensus is sure to land us in the rubbish bin of history. Can anyone seriously imagine a society enduring for even one generation on the sagely foundation of “allowing the existence” of its neighbors?
As a Kingdom disciple God is calling me to a higher and infinitely more delightful position of loving others, honoring them, and considering them better than myself.
- Do not act out of selfish ambition or conceit, but with humility think of others as being better than yourselves. (Phil 2:3)
- Show honor to everyone. Keep on loving the brothers, fearing God, and honoring the king. (1 Pet. 2:17)
It seems important in today’s cultural and political climate to shore up relationships with those around us lest the world we know disintegrates under our feet. I’m choosing to categorically reject mere tolerance for the higher call of honoring others as the image-bearers of God. To recognize the Imago Dei, (the image of God), in another is to embrace civility, honor, compassion, and respect. It feels like we could use a bit more of that in the world.
I think we all need a time out. When the mudslinging escalates to the point where we’ve become judge, jury, and executioner of our neighbor based on his political convictions even the “isms” get misused and vilified. Words like “socialism”, “racism”, “Communism”, and “Nazism” are not for angry children who stomp and scream at each other, but for civil people who converse with one another about ideas. When “isms” become aspersions and conversations become altercations it’s time to take a deep breath, remember the words of Jesus*, and spend an evening watching the Lord of the Flies.
My friend may have socialist ideas. He may disagree with me on everything from health care reform to czars, deficits, and ACORN. He may disdain everything I hold dear and blaspheme God himself. But the One who created him loves him with an unearthly passion and trusts me with the high honor of putting words and actions to His love
I am determined to walk in love, to consider all evidence, and talk in peaceful, rational tones. Will you join me?
- Judge not, that ye be not judged. (Matt. 7:1)
- Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; (Matt. 5:44)
- Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and a house divided against a house falleth. (Luke 11:17)
Faced with a choice between Inglorious Bastards and Julie and Julia, I deferred to my friend Beth and went with the chick-flick. There were way too many bullet holes on that poster of Brad Pitt, and I reckoned it would be easier for me to watch Merle Streep cook than for Beth to watch Brad slaughter Nazis.
It was a great choice. You know, the kingdom changes everything, and even this biographical film about a French cook oozed with the passion and creativity of the Trinity. It’s a movie about following the passions placed in our heart by Father God, and about how we come alive when we do the things we’re created to do. Of course Merle Streep, (who happens to be one of my favorite actresses), was brilliant as Julia Child, and even though I didn’t get choked up, I got worked-up and had to refrain from jumping up and cheering during several scenes.
Julia Child cooked fish. And so did Jesus. (John 21:9-13) So the way I see it, that makes cooking a holy thing. The source of that delightful cooking-joy in Julia Child found its source in the creative, cooking God.
I walked out of the theater thinking abut my passions. Am I living them? Am I throwing myself into the things the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit created me to do? Are you? You might want to check out Julie and Julia.
Today I want to honor the people of my hometown. I grew up in the same community as Henry Louis Gates, the “preeminent black scholar and Harvard professor” who has been so much in the news this week over an incident of alleged racial profiling in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Henry was a couple of years older than me, and I really don’t know what sort of things he might have experienced growing up. I’m sure he’s had some hurtful experiences that could add kerosene to any racial fires burning in America. But I’m hoping he’ll decide to use his stories and memories in a more holy way.
In the meantime, the interracial friendships of Henry’s hometown are light years ahead of the stuff we’re hearing about in the news. And they didn’t arrive at that place by shouting and pointing fingers. The “Tri-Towns” of Piedmont, West Virginia, Westernport and Luke Maryland is a community where Blacks and Whites live together, worship together, and grieve together out of respect and genuine affection for one another. Most of my hometown friends of either race could teach both the Harvard professor and the Cambridge police department a good lesson in civility: “A soft answer turns away wrath, but harsh words stir up anger.” (Prov. 15:1)
It’s a kingdom thing, isn’t it? Once we realize that we’re all brothers and sisters in an amazing family of diversity and wonder, we begin to honor and respect the person next door regardless of all the things that might come between us.
I can’t imagine racial conciliation ever becoming a reality in the absence of the Kingdom; There’s just too much pride, anger, and self-importance at work in the fallen sons of Adam. Still… as the world marches in circles trusting its broken tools of castigation, litigation, and legislation, the amazing sons and daughters of the Kingdom will quietly enjoy loving each other under the tender gaze of their Father. So to all of my hometown friends of whichever color you happen to be, I’m proud of you, and glad to be a part of the family!