The Good Samaritan. Like an episode of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, we know the moral of this story, right? Be a GOOD neighbor! We see ourselves in the role of the Samaritan, thinking to ourselves, “I bet I would have stopped. If I saw that man on the side of the road, I would have been the one to help him.” Really? What if it cost you two month’s salary? What if you got robbed and beaten yourself during your rescue mission? What if you traded in your reputation for the safety of that stranger on the side of the road? What if you missed your dream job interview because of this dirty, bleeding nobody? This story digs deeper than our Mr. Rogers moralizing. This story makes us uncomfortable. It challenges the way we think about love.
>> I encourage you to read the short account first in Luke10:25-37. You can read it online here.
Pastor Monseth has been the dean of our AFLC Seminary for 42 years. He was my Systematic Theology professor and my good friend. He was also the father of some of the best friends I have ever had. When you love much, you grieve hard, and so his absence is felt deeply by our families and by our whole church Association. Fran Monseth died on Good Friday. Late at night, following an emotionally tangled Easter, my brother-in-law, Adam, sent the following tweet:
There it is. GOSPEL! HOPE! The exact minute we concede our loved ones are gone, the power of hope floods in.
For those of us who loved Fran so deeply, we grieve his passing with many tears. I hate it. He was like a second (or third) dad to me, he loved my wife and kiddos like family. And he let us know. His absence will be felt for the rest of our lives. My grief spills down my face, and it has for a week, and it shows no signs of stopping. But then, in every conversation, and in every story… Jesus. The Gospel. HOPE.
I’m straining at the keyboard to shout it to you. Whether you go to church or not. I feel this one to my toes. Jesus makes all the difference. On one side stands anger/confusion/hopelessness/defeat/despair/eventual cynicism and apathy. On the other stands HOPE. With hope comes forgiveness, freedom, purpose, and much joy. God is in the business of proclaiming HOPE in the darkest of places, in the darkest of moments, to the darkest of hearts. I want to be a part of His great story. Like Fran.
Those who ever had a chance to meet Pastor Monseth – or had the great privilege of knowing him well – will speak with conviction that he reflected the character of his greatest love. I’ve heard people say that we become like what we love most. It is natural to worship what we love most. It is natural for a student to become like their teacher. For boys to grow up to be like the dads they love. In this regard Fran reflected the love and character and values of his father, Pastor Fritjof Monseth. Even more, we saw JESUS in him.
I’m struggling to shake off the “churchy” language here – I don’t want my words to blend into the evangelical beige. To say we saw JESUS in Fran has some TEETH. It means real-world lives were changed, because Fran lived DIFFERENTLY than most people – even churchy people. Fran’s faith was bold. He was resolute. He loved God fiercely, and his family joyfully, and his friends deeply. He was full of the truth. He had huge swaths of God’s Word memorized, and his conversations were saturated with scripture. When I had the pressures of life weighing me down, I would talk to Fran, and he cared about it. He cared about our stuff like it was HIS stuff. He would pray with me, asking God to bless and protect and provide for us, with every understanding that his prayers would be answered, because His God is my God. And our God is trustworthy. Without Jesus, I would carry the weight of the world on my shoulders. With Jesus, I can rest. Fran reminded me of that a hundred times.
I was talking to one of the maintenance men on the Seminary campus where I live (and where Fran worked everyday as Professor of Systematic Theology and Seminary Dean), and we noted the consistency with which Fran loved people. I mean ALL people. Recognize the rarity in this. We don’t live like this, even if we believe we should… Or maybe I should just speak for me. I don’t love people the same – with Jesus’ kind of love – regardless of their stature or intellect or smell. I know I shouldn’t, but I tend to categorize people. Lord forgive me.
Fran looked everybody in the eye. His countenance and his words communicated “You matter to me and you matter to God.” This was true for the academicians he could call peers, and it was true for the everyday Joes, and even for the Seminary students who sometimes thought we knew better. Notably, it was just as true for the awkward and the offensive and the marginal people. Fran supernaturally loved people. He was like Jesus.
Do you get this? How remarkable and important this is? Pastor Monseth breathed out Jesus to everybody he had contact with. He affirmed the learned and the weirdos. I want to be that kind of man.
But then he died. He just died. It was a Friday morning. And then by lunch time, no heartbeat.
This is a spark that grows. This is the unique thing that Jesus-lovers experience that the rest of the world doesn’t believe truly exists. This is HOPE: God’s PROVEN power on full display in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and it is the future of those who believe. Like Fran. Jesus promised us in Romans 6 that our sins were put to death with Him on the cross, and in His resurrection WE who believe are (and will be) resurrected to new life in Him.
As Fran’s death approached he was preparing us – those who love him much – in the HOPE that we would need in days like today, the day of his funeral.
On the Sunday before Easter, Palm Sunday, the Monseth family gathered at the family farm in Rogers, MN, to celebrate Easter together. Grandpa Monseth spoke that afternoon to the family about the hope of resurrection. He talked about the death of his dad, Fritjof, and how he grieved it. “But,” he said, “we do not grieve as those who have no hope.” Quoting 1 Thessalonians 4:13, he prepared his family. “When I go to heaven on Friday, I know you will be sad. But the sovereign God loves us. Remember the HOPE we have in Jesus. We’ll spend FOREVER together with Him. You’ll see.” Jesus makes all the difference.
He was preparing us, too, his students at AFLTS. In his last lecture of his 42 year career teaching at our Seminary, Dr. Monseth spoke to us about death and the nature of our transition to heaven as disciples of Jesus. In a profoundly fitting turn, Pastor Monseth ended class on Wednesday, March 27, with Job 19:25-27, which is likely the oldest statement in the Bible about the hope of the resurrection.
“For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.”
This matters! HOPE! No other religion offers HOPE like the assurance of freedom and life that Jesus gives us. His promises are so clear. I agree with the Apostle Paul, who wrote about this hope in Romans 1:16.
“I have complete confidence in the gospel; it is God’s power to save all who believe…”
ALL who believe. Jesus made all the difference to Fran. This confidence in the Gospel fueled his passion to share it. With everyone. With Doctors and weirdos. Because the smartest and the slowest, the kindest and the cruelest, the polished and the ragamuffins ALL fall short of God’s perfect standard. Every soul needs Jesus. Fran lived the Gospel message – the unshakable HOPE that is stronger than death: JESUS died and rose again to forgive everyone. Salvation and freedom and purpose and meaning and HOPE are universally available to EVERYONE who believes.
So today we gather in the chapel on the beloved campus where Dr. Monseth poured out his Jesus to thousands of students. Not just religious ideology. He gave us Jesus. Through the Spirit and the Word, Pastor Monseth helped usher in the Kingdom of God among us. And I know we will never be able to accommodate all the traffic. And I know the spaces of this campus will be filled to overflowing. But I know this is right, to be right here together to mourn as a family. And I think of the last time we gathered with Pastor Monseth as a family in this chapel, not too many days ago.
We gathered here for Ben and Dre’s new daughter – Fran’s latest grandchild. It was her baptism day. I had the great privilege of holding this new 8 pound life, and welcoming her into the family of God with the water and the Word. Everybody huddled around, and the kids had the best seats, right up in front. Blessings were read over her. And Grandpa Fran’s rich voice, full of love and conviction, rang out his blessing, calling upon Jesus to keep her and strengthen her and use her life for His glory. And in this little girl I see his legacy. Like I do in the family picture above.
Only when I look at these pictures, I see thousands of other souls leaning into the frame. Lives changed forever because Fran lived with the courage and conviction to tell them how they mattered to God, and how their sick souls and selfish hearts needed Jesus. And more than that… how Jesus was available to them. Today. Right now. How many souls will be with Fran in heaven because he loved the somebodies and the nobodies with equal compassion? I imagine a stadium full. Only they’re not cheering for Fran. They’re shouting their praise to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world – Fran’s first love. The One he sees today face to face.
I think again of this little girl that Fran loved so dearly. I see her daddy hold her close with such joy and protective, crazy love. And I understand again the metaphor that God has given us. “I love you like that. I hold you close like that. I am your father, and you are my adopted sons and daughters whom I chose to be my own. When you love much, you will grieve hard, and so I will comfort you today.”
Jesus makes all the difference. Without Him we wail into the wind. But Fran knew Jesus. Peace. Purpose. Forgiveness. Freedom. Wholeness. Resurrection. LIFE.
I marvel at the grace of God. I think of Fran’s new granddaughter, and I see how His hand of blessing was surely upon Ben and Dre as they continued his family line. I imagine her growing in her faith, with the tender heart for Jesus that we see in her dad, and the beautiful boldness of her momma, furthering the exponential reach of her Grandpa’s Gospel legacy.
And I think what a wonder it is that in this season of deep grief, in the midst of deep faith, they named her HOPE.
You can’t show someone the gospel with a sandwich…
BAM. Here we go. I’m stirring the pot. Somewhere out there, one of you is sick of the church giving lip service to love. You read that first line and just winced a little bit. In fact, this is the epitome of the gospel to you… loving people in Jesus name. Feeding the hungry. Hands-on love of the broken and wounded and penniless and hopeless. After all, Jesus talked about the least of these, right? And faith without works is dead, right? And the greatest commandment is “love God,” and we do that best by loving people, RIGHT? You remember this quote attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary, use words.”
It’s a great line. Someone out there has written this quote in your journal, and it has changed your life. The way you think about the Gospel and what you’re here for has been forever changed. Praise God that you are hungry to serve Him and love people. I mean that. So don’t let this dampen the fire of your love…
Francis of Assisi was wrong.
Look at 1 Corinthians 15:1-4. Paul reminds us (because we tend to forget) EXACTLY what the clear, unadulterated Gospel message is… the one Paul would give his life for: (1) Jesus died for our sins. (2) He was buried. (3) He was raised on the third day.
That’s it. It’s a clear message. No sandwiches involved. Love and service are a natural and healthy RESPONSE to the Gospel, but can never be mistaken for the message itself. Jesus penal substitutionary atonement for our sin, and His victory over death in the Resurrection are the heart of the Gospel. It is a message that must be PROCLAIMED… it cannot be shown.
You can show His love. You can show your love for Him. You can show the world a different way to live, and you can give yourself away in love and service to others.
But you are not sharing the Gospel unless you proclaim it. You’ve got to tell people who Jesus is and what He has done, because THAT is what has the power to save souls.
If we do not proclaim the clear message that our only hope is faith alone by grace alone in Christ alone, then Christ ceases to be our substitutionary atonement and becomes merely our example. Is it possible that the people we serve will misunderstand the heart of our faith? That when we sign on to the Christian faith, we are obligated to earn back favor with God? I see it on bumper stickers and church bulletin boards… Christ died for you – are you living for Him? WWJD? Serve like Jesus. Love like Jesus. Live like Jesus.
It is an impossible standard. Instead we must serve, love, and live BECAUSE of Jesus.
For those of you who are sick of watching hurting people suffer because the Church talks the talk but doesn’t walk the walk, I empathize deeply with your holy discontent. However, we cannot SUBSTITUTE walking the walk for talking the talk. Maybe we ought to start with the walk… but we must talk, too.
Over the past several years the Emergent conversation has been reexamining Christian faith, and what it means to be a Christ follower… and what it means to be saved. Somehow definitions that have for centuries been bedrock biblical truths have become mired in conjecture and postmodern equivocation. Some now see salvation as something we work out and experience here on earth by serving the needy and the poor, caring for others, caring for the environment, etc.
The Emergent redefinition of salvation fundamentally wrecks the Gospel, because it takes away the gift and replaces it with an obligation. The Gospel through this lens is a transfer from grace received to something we do. Galatians 5:1 reminds us:
“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”
I believe we experience salvation here and now, too. But it is in and through the finished work of Jesus, who died for our sins, was buried, and rose again. I believe we are called to love and serve the hurting and needy, to be good stewards of the earth, and to give our lives away in Jesus’ name. But it is all a response.
Because HE loved us, make those sandwiches. Feed the hungry ones. But you can’t show someone the Gospel with a sandwich. Love ’em, and then tell ’em WHY.
I was sitting here with my Lucky Charms. 11:07PM. Just between an assignment and studying for a Greek quiz in the morning. Study break.
Then I watched this video. I will literally never forget what I feel right now. My mind has been changed. Probably my life. Do you have 9 minutes?
First of all, I’m guilty. I have read John 12:8 and always thought it to be kind of a hopeless proclamation of ongoing poverty. I’m done with that. Jesus, forgive me.
Secondly, I love prompting ideas and discussion. I love encouraging people to worship God because of His worthiness and beauty and mind-wrecking love for us. But I don’t like to get on this soapbox and scold. Can you bare with me today? Know that I speak this in love, and I’m preaching to myself, but it has to be said.
You and me… church people… we have let people die because of our indifference. It’s time to change your mind about the poor. Especially in this awesome, God-blessed country, where even in the toughest of times, we are surrounded by abundance. We can do this, Church, because God has given us EVERY RESOURCE needed to share our wealth and the love of Jesus with the world. The whole world.
Sell stuff. You’ve got more than you need.
Thirdly, I know that we don’t earn favor with God by doing more. I know that our hope is built upon the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross, and Him risen again. Grace alone, through faith in Jesus alone… That is the beginning and end of our hope. Don’t point a “works-righteousness” finger unless you’re convinced this challenge is somehow corrupting the gospel. Because it’s not. Serving the poor does not secure our favor with God, but it MUST be a result of it. “Faith without works is dead.”
I Timothy 2:14 has this to say: “Our great God and Savior Jesus Christ… gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”
Zealous? I haven’t been that word. I’ve been lazy, overwhelmed and faithless. I’ve been passive about people in extreme poverty. Passive. What’s wrong with me? Well, today I’m taking the NEXT verse in Titus seriously…
“Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.”
So I’m on this soapbox. Exhorting you, and maybe rebuking those who need it. We must not remain passive. Let’s go Church! Let’s break the bondage of extreme poverty – across the globe – in our generation.
I’ve been hurting and praying for the family of Tyler Clementi. His death is deeply tragic. And I believe that bullying is a big deal. We ought to treat each other in civil society with respect, and we need to raise our children to treat other people with respect. Even those we disagree with. Especially those we disagree with.
This post will take a little time to develop, so I want to be clear about my purposes for writing it up front.
FIRST: If you’re a student somewhere being bullied because you are gay, and you are considering checking out – just to escape the pain of it – please don’t. You are loved. I know that to my very core. God didn’t screw up when he made you. He wants to fill your life with purpose. There are hundreds of voices on YouTube and everywhere right now sending you the message that “IT GETS BETTER.” And if you can make it through this tough season of life, where you’re surrounded by jerks, you’ll soon come out the other side and enter a new phase of life – free from that kind of intense bullying that cuts you down. So my first message to you is this: HANG IN THERE, because you’re deeply valuable. And I’m a Christian guy who believes that being gay is not God’s plan for you – I’ve written about this stuff before. But listen, you are more than your sexual nature, and youmatter to us and to God, no matter what your sexual orientation. I hope you’re willing to keep reading this, and keep thinking.
SECOND: Gene Robinson is an enemy of God. He is one of the voices proclaiming the “it gets better message,” and I have posted his video below. While I believe he means well, and many gay young people have been encouraged by his message, he is misrepresenting God, and God’s Church. I do not hate Gene Robinson, and I do not oppose his message because he is gay. Rather, I oppose his message because he is wrong. More on that below…
You’ve maybe never read this blog before, so I want to help you put what I’m about to write into context. Everybody has a foundational set of beliefs building the framework of their life story, even those of us who never think it through or put it into words. Here are a few of mine:
With regards to Faith and Life:
(1) I believe that God is sovereign, and His Word (the Bible) is perfect and authoritative on all issues pertaining to faith and life.
(2) I believe that every single person on earth (myself included) has been born with a sinful nature, and is therefore condemned to an eternity apart from God. We can’t fix it through anything we do. Period.
(3) Jesus Christ died on a cross to save us from that sin. He is the only road to forgiveness and a restored relationship with God. Yes, that message is exclusive. Jesus alone is our only hope. That’s basic Christian doctrine.
(4) God is a God of love and justice. His standards are not flexible, because He is holy, and that means He is pure and “other than us.” Our human minds cannot contain or explain Him in this regard. But He also loves us with a fierce, protective, all-consuming, life-changing love that is not bound by the limits of even the deepest love of man. Our human minds cannot contain or explain Him in this regard.
With regards to homosexuality:
(1) I believe that God’s Word makes it clear that homosexual activity is sin. I know many believe they can explain away the several passages in scripture that make this clear. But those arguments do not stand up to sound standards of Biblical interpretation. Therefore, I reject the argument that “God didn’t really say that.” He did say that. People have the free will to choose to live set against His Word. But it is simply not true that the Bible is in any way unclear on this matter.
(2) I’m not sure what my Christian brothers and sisters would say to me in this one, but here goes… I believe that the evidence of nature, personal witness, and common sense makes it clear that some people are born with a homosexual proclivity. I am making a clear distinction here between homosexual nature and homosexual behavior. The clear testimony of many homosexuals, including some of my friends, is that their very earliest memories of a sexual nature involved same-sex attraction.
So, now what…?
The two statements above create tension. On the one hand, God is saying that acting on one’s homosexual feelings is sin, and a violation of His relationship with us – enough of a violation (actually, EVERY sin is enough) to separate us from God forever. No heaven. No hope. Just regret, guilt, pain, fear and darkness. On the other hand, some people seem to grow up with an attraction to people of their own gender. How can this be? How can God allow this? It isn’t fair. It is too much to ask…
I have a lot of empathy for those with a homosexual predisposition. Some fight it. Others embrace it. Still others live in the middle ground somewhere. At some point, to come to a degree of mental peace about this issue, a person with a homosexual nature has to examine what they believe about the morality of homosexual behavior. If you’re gay, and have looked at the Bible and agree that it seems clear that homosexuality (expressed through lifestyle) is wrong, you must be either full of conflict, or you have chosen to reject the Bible as a valid authority in today’s culture. If, on the other hand, you simply discount the Bible, being a homosexual today is much easier.
But easy does not equal right. It’s often the hard road that is the best one. And doing the right thing comes at a cost. That’s true in every area of life, and it really matters. It’s easier to cheat on tests and papers in school. It’s easier to follow the crowd into all kinds of bad moral choices than it is to humbly go the right direction. It’s easier for any man, gay or straight, to chase his sinful sexual nature into multiple relationships, but committing to one for life through marriage is so much better – and it is the only moral choice, with the authority of the Bible making that clear.
Unfortunately, the evangelical Christian community has often handled our relationships with gay people clumsily – or with venom. A mean-spirited approach to people with a homosexual predisposition destroys our ability to share the life-giving message of Jesus. We have not, in general, loved gay people very well as a community, because (to some degree) we don’t know how. But we do know that the Bible says “don’t do it,” so we point our fingers and feel justified in doing so. It is possible, Church, to be clear on moral lines, and still love people well. In his way, Gene Robinson is trying to tell gay young people that we (evangelical Christians) have failed to show love, but that doesn’t mean God isn’t loving. In as far as that goes, I agree with Gene.
HOWEVER, Gene Robinson is not just a random dude on the street. Gene Robinson is a Bishop – a “representative” of God and God’s people. He is influential, and many outside the church see him as a representative of those of us who identify ourselves as a part of Jesus’ family. For this reason, when he speaks on behalf of God, and boldly proclaims lies as the truth, he becomes an enemy of the truth. He is working against God.And he is working against you, too.
Here is Bishop Gene Robinson’s “It Gets Better” message:
Gene Robinson, I’m sure, wants to help and encourage you if you are gay and are facing hostility, bullying, or just differing points of view. I respect people’s freedom to live as they please in this country, and I am grateful for free speech. But that door swings both ways. Gene is free to proclaim things about God and about His people that are not true, and I am free to publicly oppose that message as not just a little bit off base, but actually demonic heresy. Gene Robinson is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. He may be a nice man, but I will take a stand today against his message.
When he says that your Baptist parents’ message that God does not accept a homosexual lifestyle is “flat out not true,” he is wrong. God won’t stop loving you, but his moral standards do not endorse homosexuality. That is a hard truth, but being hard doesn’t make it wrong.
Mr Robinson goes on to say that God wants you to “be the way you are,” and that God made you that way… that He doesn’t want you to change. The hard truth is, sin in the world has corrupted men – every one – so that we want things that we should not desire, and we long for things that go against God’s will for us. In fact, all of us have sinned and have a broken relationship with God. That’s why Jesus came and died for us. So that if we trust Him, he cleanses us from our sin and buys us back from the kindgom of darkness.
Gene Robinson is a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ by TITLE, but he is serving the wrong team. If he were truly serving Jesus, he would tell the truth – that Jesus Christ died to save everyone because we all desperately NEED him to save us from our depravity. Every sinner. Gay and straight. And Gene would tell you that God’s laws aren’t rewritten when they are hard to understand or seem too hard for us to live by. God’s justice (His law) and His love (Jesus’ rescue) never change, even when the culture does.
So, if you are gay, and wondering what to do with it all, I want to tell you the truth in love. Most Christians don’t hate you. They (and I) may do a lousy job of loving you, but don’t write off Jesus for the failures of his kids. We are all broken people. We may not understand your struggles and desires, because straight people just haven’t been there. But God does set a clear standard. Homosexual behavior is sin. And many, many, many people born with a homosexual inclination or nature have learned to fight that fight for love of God and the truth. The message of the gay community right now is “It Gets Better,” and they are right. This culture is making more and more efforts to affirm the gay lifestyle as a normal, healthy choice. If you choose not to wrestle with the moral implications of a gay lifestyle, it will only get easier for you the older you get. But there is grave danger in that choice. Your life on earth is only a blink. And then you face eternity.
You need Jesus, because it is too hard for you without Him. So do I, because in my way, resisting sin and earning heaven by living the perfect lifestyle is too hard for me, too. Only in Jesus do we have any hope. If you want to talk with me more about this, use my contact info and shoot me an email or call me up. God does love you like crazy, and there is great hope in that truth. But that isn’t to say we can do anything we want, and God will simply endorse it as a “no big deal” decision. Love and justice. Moral boundaries BECAUSE He wants the best for us.
Gene Robinson gets it ALMOST right when he says, “God wants you to live in the light of His love, and that light will take away all of this darkness…”
Unfortunately Gene is implying that we Christians, speaking the truth about God’s clear Biblical guidelines, we are the darkness. He would seek to put a dividing wall between God’s love and “religious people.” Gene is wrong. SIN is the darkness. He is on the wrong team. One day Gene will answer to God for his life. So will I. So will you. And on that day, the light WILL take away all darkness – all sin, of every kind will be eradicated. Between that day and this one, we all need Jesus. Thankfully,God DOES love us beyond our wildest imagining. He loves us enough to show us the hard truth in His Word, and to send Jesus to do the impossible on our behalf.
When I was a kid, my parents didn’t want us to watch Scooby Doo. They thought it would leech our brain cells by its very nature: predictable, ridiculous, low-brow, bad art. They foresaw our IQ dropping steadily every Saturday morning, ultimately resulting in our academic failure at some institution of higher learning, thereby ensuring our demise in a life of ditch digging for minimum wage.
Well, mom and dad, I still like old-school Scooby Doo. It’s predictability is therapeutic. I am comforted by the fact that the scariest and most unexplainable of mysteries will always turn out to be the nefarious work of Old Man Carruthers with a rubber mask, some cleverly run speaker wire, and a reel-to-reel film projector. And of course, he would have gotten away with his no-good tom-foolery if it wasn’t for those meddling kids.
Maybe it’s not the high art Buggs Bunny brings to the table, but it’s formulaic nature is entertaining in and of itself. And among the many standard props of the trademark Scooby Doo mystery, you could always count on one element to add a sense of danger and uncertainty to the ambiance… FOG.
Fog obscures. Fog prevents us from seeing clearly what lies ahead. What lies around us. Fog blankets the earth in a haze of uncertainly that makes us slow our cars and strain to see. Fog blurs reality.
One of my favorite teachers and worship leaders, Tom Krauter, wrote a great book called “Living Beyond the Ordinary.” He tells a story at the beginning of Chapter 17 about flying out of Salt Lake City on a sunny afternoon. As he reached a certain altitude, everything suddenly became much clearer. Colors were more vibrant. Edges sharper. The sky was radiant, and he realized for the first time that the urban environment he had been walking around in was obscured by a haze of city smog. It blurred the lines and muted the colors in a subtle foggy haze… and he didn’t even realize it was there until he was lifted out of the haze and into the clarity of the clean air above.
FOG. It’s a great metaphor for our hazy spiritual acuity. Are you stumbling along, bumping your way through in a blur… or are you fully alive? Fully awake? Do you exist, or are you thriving? Maybe you’ve been in the fog for so long, you don’t even recognize it anymore. If you’re living a hazy life without focus, clarity, exuberance, Jesus wants you to wake up and rise above the haze. John 10:10 says He came to give us LIFE to the FULL! Why do we settle for fog? Just getting by? No way! Reject good enough. In Christ we have LIFE, purpose, identity, power… all the makings of an adventurous love affair life with God.
I live in the city – in the inner-ring Northwest suburbs of Minneapolis. On a clear night I can easily make out the moon. And about six stars. In all of their glory. The haze of the city mixed with the light pollution of a gazillion streetlights obscures my view, and the wonder of the cosmos is blended into an orangish gray blank slate, with just a few stubborn pinholes shining overhead.
But I grew up in the northern woods of Minnesota. Eight miles north of Bemidji, where the houses and the lights are scattered few and far between among the tall pines and lakes of the north-land. UP THERE, the depth of the star field is literally breathtaking. I used to love to take the boat out at midnight, turn off the 110HP Mercury outboard, and float in the middle of Big Bass Lake… in the silence, on my back, looking up at into the sky above. The band of the Milky Way could clearly be seen stretching like a stripe across the black. If you focused on a blur of light, several stars in a cluster would pop into focus. Planets. Shooting stars. And the Northern Lights dancing like green fire. It was always there, but in the haze of city life, I couldn’t see it.
If you find yourself in a haze, barely awake to the LIFE that should be pouring out of you, it’s time to wake up and embrace the reality that has always been there. Life to the full.
How do we break out of the fog? How do we gain clarity? Here’s a start:
(1) Confront the reality that you need forgiveness. If i’m walking around weighed down my sin – and patterns of behavior that I know don’t honor God – I need the cross again. Right now. The second I turn to the cross and ask Jesus for forgiveness, that burden is gone. Forgotten. Paid for by Jesus’ blood. Take a moment and be honest with Jesus. That’s ALWAYS step one…
(2) Recognize that busyness kills clarity. If focus on the significant is like a laser beam, then busyness is a fog lampilluminating the haze. Eugene Peterson, author of “The Message,” said “Busyness is the enemy of spirituality. It is essentially laziness. It is doing the easy thing instead of the hard thing. It is filling our time with our own actions instead of paying attention to God’s actions. It is taking charge.” Want a life of adventure? Let go of control. Clear the clutter out of your schedule. Ask God what He is calling you to do. Then do that.
(3) Recognize that comfort dulls the senses. This is maybe one of the hardest pills to swallow as Americans. We’re just so doggone COMFORTABLE. I remember talking to my cousin one day. It was still a few days to payday, and they were short enough on cash that they didn’t want to use any gas going to the store… so it was macaroni and cheese for dinner. Again. And then suddenly, instead of complaining about their dire circumstances, he popped up from the table and declared, “C’mon kids! We’re Americans! We’ve got it great! Let’s hit the pool!” And they did. That’s the reality for most of us. As you read this with on your laptop and coffee in hand, you don’t have to worry about where you’re sleeping tonight or whether or not you’ll eat today. That blessing of God that allows us SO MUCH comfort comes with a price. It blankets urgency. If you want to get out of the fog – live on the edge where the world around you comes into sharp focus – you have to climb out from under the blankets. You have to be willing to be uncomfortable. That’s where God’s working. Where hurting people are. They need hope… and maybe a meal. That’s why it was both funny and so sad to hear Francis Chan at Exponential 2010 last week remark, “We have so many people called to where the rich people are.”
Want to break out of the fog? Live fully alive with Jesus? ASK for forgiveness. REPENT of your busyness and focus on the eternally important. GET UNCOMFORTABLE loving the dirty people, and God’s peace will replace the safety of your risk-less life.
Our gravitational pull is toward numb. It is just not possible to sustain gut-wrenching emotion. So when suffering outlasts our natural capacity for compassion, we need to intentionally remind ourselves. Feel it again.
It has been over a month since the earthquake. Conditions on the ground are worse, not better, in many cases. As time slips by, I have had my eyes open for a couple of tangible ways people can help. Here are two that are inspiring to me:
This organization is meeting the immediate needs of homeless families by providing waterproof tents as shelter from the sun and the coming rainy season. The rainy season officially begins in 4 days. Many families have no shelter – or are trying to huddle under sheets held up by sticks. If you want to make a life-changing difference in somebody’s RIGHT NOW reality, buy a tent. Donate money. 200,000 tents are needed to erradicate homelessness in Haiti right now.
A February 27th concert sponsored by Compassion International, streaming live, raising money and awareness of the brokeness and the need in Haiti. To learn more about this event, click here to visit the Help Haiti Live website. I have a part of my heart reserved for Compassion International. We sponsor a boy in Tanzania through Compassion. They have done so much good in Jesus’ name for the least and the marginalized and the small… it boggles the mind. I trust Compassion International – their track record is impeccable for fiscal responsibility and minimization of administrative costs. If you want to help in a long-term, bricks and mortar kind of way, give generously to this fundraising effort by Compassion.
As an artist I have been moved by the beautiful work and art of the designers, musicians, and technicians working in symbiosis to help us feel. Brad Ruggles design on the Help Haiti Live site is gorgeous. The music from Provident Label Group above gave me goosebumps. The video work is outstanding. But it isn’t about the art. It is about FEELING. Artists help the Church feel what is important. And feeling motivates action. At the end of the day, it is easiest to block out the suffering of people we will never meet, in a place we may never go. But Jesus love is global. And we are the Church. So we must love. And love without action can hardly be love at all.
You can watch the world in real time now. Google Earth. Twitter updates. Blog posts. All avenues to see the pain in Haiti. At some point tonight, amid a mix of posts about cookies and Conan O’Brien and the crisis in Haiti (all coming from me), something turned my stomach. No more trivia right now. People are dying, and others with broken bones have no medical help. Water is in short supply. Infection will set in soon for thousands more. The next window of history in Haiti will be dark. But Jesus has hands and feet world-wide. The Church (big “C”) can help.
I have not posted here about Haiti before now because several other bloggers I follow have done such a great job already. But I realize that maybe YOU have not read those posts. Maybe YOU will find out what you need to know here. Maybe God is nudging YOU to move. Right now.
First of all, my wife and I have discussed the fact that it is hard to “feel” this scale of tragedy far away unless you actively pursue being uncomfortable. Look at the destruction. That’s not your home or mine, but it is somebody’s home. Look at the broken legs and bleeding kids. Those aren’t your kids or mine, but they are somebody’s kids. This may be the most widely linked set of pictures available from the first 24 hours or so after the quake, but if you have not yet intentionally looked deeply and felt deeply, go HERE. (from Boston.com)
Secondly, there are many good ways to help. Many organizations are on the ground now, doing all they can. There’s no “best answer” here – just pick an avenue and get involved. Our church, Living Hope in St. Michael-Albertville, MN, is partnering with WorldVision, one of the first responders after the quake. Click on the banner to donate:
If not WorldVision, how about the Red Cross? Something so simple… send a text message and donate $10 automatically. Blip! Done. As of last night (January 14), the Red Cross had already raised over $6 million by text. Here’s how: text the phrase “HAITI” to the number 90999 and donate $10 to the Red Cross. The amount is charged to your cell phone bill.
Want to help AND do it in the name of Jesus? Text the phrase “disaster” to the number 90999 and donate $10 to through Compassion International.I included a link to Compassion earlier in this post – a big huge blue box of a link. Can’t miss it. Amy and I have sponsored a boy from Tanzania through Compassion for years. We hold them in very high regard. They have established an efficient network to get help where it is needed, minimizing administrative costs. If you choose to help through Compassion International, here’s what happens with your gift:
$35 helps provide a relief pack filled with enough food and water to sustain a family for one week.
$70 gift helps care for their needs for two weeks.
$105 helps provide relief packs filled with enough food and water to sustain two families for two weeks.
$210 gift helps care for two families’ needs.
$525 provides relief packs filled with enough food and water to sustain 10 families for two weeks.
$1,050 gift cares for 10 families’ needs.
$1,500 helps rebuild a home.
$2,100 supplies 20 families with the basics for three weeks.
I’ll end with this… I drink coffee all day. I drive wherever I want. We struggle to choose which nationality of food stuff to eat for supper each evening. America is draped in comfort – even on our hardest days. That American comfort has a numbing effect on our desperation meter. Real people right now are trapped, thirsty, wounded, terrified, desperate. Don’t let your comfortable chair and the glow of your laptop lull you out of reality. Stop what you’re doing. Pray for God’s comfort and mercy. Pray for miracles. May the endless well of God’s provision and love meet the deep cries for help in Haiti. Right now. Amen.
I have tears running down my face. Dripping on my jeans.
For the past several years our family has sponsored a little boy named Eli from Tanzania. Eli Masoda Deengw. He’s about the same age as our oldest son, Seth. I remember when we first got the information packet from Compassion International about Eli. His cheeks were round when he smiled for his picture. Now he’s growing up long and tall – a lot like Seth.
Amy and I were talking last night about our life. What matters most to us. We are in the between-land right now. The prayerful place God leads us through when we don’t know what is just ahead. Between the stable places. We’re adjusting to a major life-change as Amy is not teaching in the Christian School she’s served for the past 15 years. Our personal economic landscape is shifting. We are living on less, looking for open doors, praying for provision.
But today, while snow and rain mix and fall on my roof, it’s warm and dry and cozy in our house. We have food in our pantry and milk in our refrigerator. Our boys are reading books and playing with toys. We’re rich. And whatever comes our way financially, we are committed to sponsoring Eli. Homes in his village have dirt floors and grass roofs. Average income for his parents is about $11 a month. We can certainly be an extension of Jesus’ love for one boy. We can afford Eli.
Two weeks ago, Catalyst 2009was held in Atlanta, GA, for young Christian leaders. Watch the video below as Jimmy Wambua meets Mark, his Compassion Sponsor of 19 years, for the first time. It’s an unbelievable moment… This is what brought the tears to my eyes today. Jimmy begins to share at minute 3:45.