Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Secret of Significance

I recently visited a local military museum here in Florida where the experience awakened many emotions, reading the account of heroes who died well, medal of honor recipients, noble veterans scarred for life by their physical and emotional trauma. All a result of their valor, courage, their greatness.

It made me a bit envious of the role they played in the human story. When I compared my life to theirs, I felt as though I had truly missed my own opportunity for greatness.

Observation shows that some are driven by a narcissistic need for self-completion that is found in having others see them as "great", "successful", or "powerful". That is the answer to many who toy with an inner sense of "destiny", anticipating the day when the curtain will be pulled back and they are finally recognized for what they are - significant on the stage of the human story. Psychologists concur that such was the character of Adolph Hitler, certainly one of the most "significant" humans who ever lived.

But aside from the sick side of things, the narcissism, the megalomania, the insecurity-driven, in a healthy sense, we all want to do something great with our lives. We only have one go at this after all. And that urge just gets stronger as you age, looking back on life, with it's sins, failures, regrets - but still longing to die well, to be a positive force in a world that is darkening.

Maybe some us have made such a mess out of our lives that greatness is out of the question - humanly speaking.

But significance is not. It's not out of the question at all. In fact it's a very real possibility, even probability.

I think I am finally learning the secret of significance. If you can't do something great, do something good, many times over. Greatness is probably out of grasp, but significance is not. Significance, making a difference, is achieved not in one great act, but in the accumulation of many small ones.

I recently visited a local sandwich shop, a startup venture, single person operation, cash only. I was short a few dollars, but the owner unhesitatingly urged me to take the sandwich anyway. By his generosity he put a smile on my face and a bit of hope in my heart. A few days later when I had a chance to return to the shop, after handing the owner his few dollars (plus a few extra just to say thanks), I felt prompted to say a couple of words of encouragement to him. That made his day, far more than the few bucks. It put a smile on his face, and he lit up, a momentary wave of encouragement in a day no doubt filled with hassle, hard work and disappointment.

If I could multiply that many times in a given day, I'm sure I would convince myself I had learned the secret of significance

Jesus, the most significant life ever lived by any man, was prone to greatness. He was the center of all existence. He was the radiance of the Father's glory, He was creator, sustainor, ruler of the Cosmos. Indeed he was greatness incarnate. But He also knew the secret of significance that was found in the accumulative wealth of small actions, marked by goodness. So the woman who touched His garment and was healed - she touched God and God touched back. The invititation of a tax-man, Zaccheus to join Him, the healing of a soldier's daughter without even stepping foot into the man's house. These little (comparatively) touches of the man Jesus as He walked through the world He created, He ruled, He owned, these little touches that He always made wherever He traveled, are the secret to our own significance.

It's not so much one great act that matters, but the accumulation of many small, good acts. That's the secret to significance.

But the real secret exists yet one layer deeper than this. The search for significance, even in the multiplication of small, good things, can end in a spiral of selfishness. If our yearning for significance terminates only with gaining that significance we so desire, then we have ended our search at the foot of our own need, and are attempting to use "significance" as a tool to complete ourselves - to make us feel good about ourselves, to gain human approval, acceptance. At least in our own eyes.

The eye of the soul, heart and desire must cast itself a further gaze, to the real need that others have. The accumulation of good things is not to land in a heap and bundle at our own feet, but as a living sacrificial memorial at the foot of Jesus and His cross. Doing good for others, simply out of love and not self-need is what we are called to as Christians. Nursing our own personal insecurities, and attempting to answer them by good works and the sense of self-satisfaction it brings is merely another form of self-salvation. This moralism minimizes the sacrifice of Jesus by unselfconsciously resting in our own deeds for our peace and security rather than in Him alone.

So while the secret of significance must include the multiplication of caring actions through our day, through our contact with others, it must set it's sights higher. The secret of significance is ultimately found in knowing Jesus and being "touched" by Him.

The calendars on every wall will never relate to your birth date - that's reserved for Jesus. But the eternally significant One, the One who occupies the center of the universe happens to love the insignificant, and touches them with the power of His own unsearchable relevance, bringing them into His shared, eternal relevance.

Secure in this relationship, our accumulation of good done for others becomes not the means for significance, but the badge, the seal, the living witness of a significance planted in eternity, where it will abide a living memorial to Christ's power of love, living through mere mortals.

Now THAT'S significance.

"...that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven".

Friday, February 8, 2013

Our Brain-Dead Culture - Ode to Joey

Our culture is brain-dead. Yes there is entertainment, a great deal of it, in film, music, art, literature; but that's because culture is human, and humans have talent, and the best of the human herd are taken to the front of the pack and yoked together to be set up as our idols in the progressive march "forward".

So show us the way Jay-z and Beyoncé.

Wasn't it Joseph Stalin who proclaimed that if he could rule Hollywood he could rule the world? So that's what we want, 20 million dead in your gulags? In your prison camps? In your beloved Siberia? Is that what we want? Your camps Joey, weren't they for the non-conformists, the freedom-loving, and generally all who failed to march to your progressive drum-beat? Oh how you could not tolerate the tolerant!

But we know who your war was really against. You hated God more than anything else didn't you Joey? Because you weren't Him. Oh how you wanted to be Him, but you died didn't you Joey and God didn't, so you're mad. If we could peel back your grave, we'd find your angry face, your paranoid eyes, your clenched fist staring back at us, wouldn't we Joey? But beyond us, toward the God who sits in the heavens, right Joey? While you are in the grave - the man of "steel", rusting like an axe.

Just like all the progressives - they are mad because God is alive, and you just can't seem to kill Him - not with your talent, your sway, your swagger, your money or your fame.

In the meantime, we'll appreciate the music, art, literature, the culture of our shared humanness. But we'll feel your pulse and hope for the best, knowing all the while our culture is still brain-dead. And God is still alive.

Sorry Jay-z, Beyoncé, Joey.

In the end, you lose.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Grace Has All the Time in the World

Patience - a key "fruit of the Spirit" and major, enviable (albeit rare) virtue. It is also what comes through so clearly in Jesus as he dealt with the woman of Samaria in John chapter four, the I'll-reputed "woman at the well".

The thing that appears most striking about the passage is that Jesus seems to have all the time in the world for her. He seems to be in no hurry whatsoever, as if He had nothing else on His plate, on His eternal agenda, or on His everlasting mind.

True, He almost seems to exude an impatience of spirit on some occasions, "you brood of vipers!", etc, but not here, not with this woman, not on this eternally significant occasion. He had all the time in the world, because this poor woman needed just that - the attention of the most significant person who ever lived, and she had it.

Such is the case any time a person regardless of their past, their darkened and checkered history, their utter human despair turns to Him feeling their need of Him, yearning for what only He can give. For this woman, it was the need to have her deepest soul-thirst quenched. She had sought for fulfillment from man, now only God Himself could take up her case.

Only He can make it as though time ceases, and the moment of meeting becomes an eternal moment of awakening, soul-satisfying, soul-changing eternity-nourishing life. He called it "rivers of living waters, springing up within you"

To the moralist, this woman is a throw-away, but to Jesus, she is a keeper.

For such, Jesus, the timeless One has all the time in the world. As the old hymn states, "all the fitness He requires, is to feel your need of Him".

Oh my God! What Have We Done?

It was a sobering moment for me recently when I learned that a neighbor of mine had experienced a tragic automobile collision. Unfortunately, to his sorrow and abiding regret, he was responsible for the death of another individual in this collision. My neighbor had pulled his eighteen-wheeler directly into the path of the oncoming vehicle, costing the driver his life. He will be profoundly remorseful for the rest of his life, I'm sure. For him it was a moment that echoed, "Oh my God, what have I done?"

So too of the collective "Oh my God, what have I done?" moment that awaits our culture when it finally awakens from the brutish nightmare of the practice of abortion. I thought of this collective nightmarish moment when I read these words in a recent news article, "Spurred on by advancing medical technology that makes fetuses more viable and more visible, states have been expanding some rights to fetuses, sometimes in conjunction with anti-abortion groups and the Catholic Church."

Advancing technology, rather than helping man get off the hook from moral and ethical trappings, offering suggestions that life was "nothing more than a biological accident", seemed suddenly to indicate just the opposite - that it was slowly, unwittingly pulling back the curtain on the genocide in our midst exposing a brutally bloody scene being played out right before our eyes.

Time for a collective "Oh my God! What have I done!?" moment.

But we all know this is not going to happen. Not because advancing technology will fail to prove the human viability of the life of the "fetus", but because this culture has no more conscience. It will waive it off. We will double down on our moral predicament adding culpable blindness to willful, wanton genocide.

A Steady, Relentless Faith - Thoughts on Christian Tolerance

We tend to be creatures who run most of our lives on "autopilot", barely conscious of our selves, the nature of our relationships, God above or any other thought-worthy occupation.

Yet our fast slipping culture is always about the business of creating something of a reaction in the minds of Christians, both conscious and unselfconscious. This is often precisely the point when the Church gets into trouble. Being yet short of her ultimate goal, "without spot or blemish", she betrays that all-too-human character trait of imbalance, of running to extremes and making sudden assumptions of self-immutability (think of Y-2k).

A major example of this tendency toward overreaction is when the culture was slipping rapidly in the period 1890-1945 or so. Post-Darwin, post-Enlightenment, post-Industrial Revolution and post 2nd Great Awakening, we needed a new theology. And the progressive theological establishments in Europe (especially Germany) were more than happy to oblige.

As the liberal theological debates intensified into the 1920s, a major movement was born which eventually embraced the moniker of Christian Fundamentalism. This reactionary movement, combining the revivalism of the Finney era, the camp and conference movement of the western frontier expansion, along with its step-child Premillenialism became a spiritual retreat from the culture, became anti-culture, and eventually became something of a ghetto into which the faithful retreated in order to protect and preserve that which they believed were the non-negotiable "fundamentals" of the Christian faith. The self-described character trait of "faithful" which they embraced was seen as "intolerant" by the larger culture undergoing slippage.

This Fundamentalism resulted in an encased, closed-minded, inbred expression of the "way true of Jesus", to the neglect and ignorance of the "true way of Jesus". Correct doctrine and being "right" trumped all. Thus american Christianity split into two thought streams - the Fundamentalists with the trademark "we are right, the whole world is wrong, and we really don't care that much about love, thank you", and the reaction to Fundamentalism, Evangelicalism in it's varied, shifting forms, always seeking to become more "relevant" to the culture, usually by conforming itself to it.

Progressive strains of Evangelicalism, in an attempt to be relevant to the culture, tend to morph into something amorphous, edge-less, with few boundaries and void of the "saltiness" that Jesus declared without which, you become "useless to men".

Somewhere in the middle of these two streams is truth - a Jesus-shaped tolerance and relevance that is, if nothing else, steady as it is relentless.

In the face of fast-paced cultural slippage ("Progressivism"), the place of the believer is not to react in fear, pulling out of the marketplace, taking our toys and hiding in our Christian ghettos hoping the thing will blow over. Nor is it to wave a big banner of "I'm a Christian, but I'm okay- I don't believe like the others! I like Che Guavara!", etc, etc.

The truth is in-between, in the way that Jesus walked, which in the end is not hard to determine. He blasted the "fundamentalists" of His day. When He even mentioned a place called Hell it was in the context of these two types of characters: the established, unteachable religious class and those who acknowledged truth, but allowed the "saltiness" and the hard edges to be ground to nothing. So while he certainly was no hide-your-head-in-the-sand Fundamentalist, neither was he an Occupy Movement loving progressive making sure the culture was aware that He was not like those other "mean-spirited" Christians, so intolerant.

A Jesus-shaped tolerance comes with maturity, reflection and a steady, relentless faith. Such can go neither to the bunker with the Fundamentalists, nor let the teeth of the "salty" elements of the Gospel slip through in an effort to be politically correct, "cool" and accepted by the culture.

A steady, relentless faith, alive, awake, and genuine, is a Jesus-shaped faith marked by love, compassion, hope AND truth.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Thing-ism, the Slow Death of the Gospel

Imagine this scene: You're peering into an elaborate, mysterious throne room, (ala Revelation, chapter four), and on the throne sits the world's most powerful, yet kindest, most benevolent ruler. Upon invitation, the room is filled with his subjects, citizens of his kingdom from all around. But the irony of the scene bites when suddenly you notice on closer inspection, that every one of the persons in the room seems apparently uninterested in the royal splendor of the good king. Rather, each person has in his hand an object of greater interest, some an iPhone, Facebooking, others Twittering away, others a gaming device of some kind, and each individual appears isolated, starry-eyed and glued to his own preoccupation, completely distracted and ambivalent to the honor of the privileged presence they are in.

Sadly similar is the scene when one gazes onto the broad landscape of Christianity in twenty-first century America. It seems the overwhelming majority of us who claim to know the King of Kings, are busily tapping away at our own unique version of that particular brand, stripe, make or model of the distraction of our choice. Yes, our distractions are always "about" Christ in some form or another, and we always claim that our allegiance to them offers some new slant, some new "take" on truth. And we are always convinced at the outset of the "rightness" of the new (or not so new) "thing" we have embraced. Being instructed by our "thing" we can tell you "about" the King in our midst, all the while betraying our true, inner boredom with Him just by the fact that we have made this "thing", whatever (or whomever) it is, our true emphasis rather than Jesus Himself. Often our passion for the thing we have adopted dominates (and hence, distracts) us from that simple, central, primitive passion for Him in the deepest core of our being.

Sometimes our Christian "things" are the spin offered by the latest faddish guru of truth, or an actual "thing" like accepted or acceptable dress codes, dietary codes, sabbath-keeping, home-churchism, KJV only-ism, church-growthism, evangelism-is-the-main-thingism, missionalism, emergent church-ism, etc, etc. It is always something that becomes the "badge" and then the focus, then the test, all the while, the disengaging distraction. We then often (as T. Austin-Sparks used to remark), become slaves of the system, rather than servants of the Spirit.

The Apostle Paul was thrust into the grip of King-consciousness and Christ-centered life in a way that took his breath away. He considered the things of Jesus to be "unsearchable riches". One definitely gets the impression that no technology, nor even the latest fad on the social networking sites could ever have trumped his profound, singleminded infatuation with the fact that Jesus was real, and that he was REALLY in eternal relations with Him. In the presence of the King, Paul was all ears, all eyes, eternally enraptured with the profound riches which were Jesus.