Saturday, March 26, 2011

Some questions hit hard!

If you believe there is a heaven and hell, . . . how much do you have to hate [a person] to not proselytize? To believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell people? This man cared enough about me to proselytize.
- Penn Fraser Jillette (Atheist / Magician)

This is not a sermon.
It's also not an accusation. It’s just a meditation.

We heard the words quoted above in church last week.
As intended, they got my attention. But as likely not intended, they also distracted me from the rest of the sermon.

The question in those words kept running around in circles inside my head. And since I had no good answer to throw at it to scare it away, it just kept running and running and running.

If you believe in eternal Heaven and eternal Hell, how much do you have to hate a person to not tell them about it?

Well, obviously (at least I hope it's obvious) it's never really a matter of hating someone so much you can't wait for Hell to swallow him up.

But it is a matter of something.

And this something must be incredibly significant to keep us so blatantly and consistently disobeying both the Lord's direct command and basic human decency.

So what is it?
I don’t know for sure. But I have a few ideas.

Could it be doubt?

Not telling people the Truth makes so little sense to me that, when I don't proselytize, it makes me wonder if I really truly believe the Truth.

This is a terrifying possibility.

Is it possible that I like to think I believe what the Bible teaches about God, people, Satan, reality, the present and the future - but that I don't really truly believe it?

I live in tornado country. For a couple months every year there is a very real possibility that swirling winds could rip through my home and destroy everything not lying flat on the basement floor.

Luckily, we have sirens that go off when one of these monsters has been sighted and is near. But even when the sirens are blaring and the weatherman shows scary graphics of tornadoes coming right at me, I almost never grab everything I value and dive down the basement steps.

You see, I believe a tornado is coming. But until I hear the roar and feel the house shake, I don't really believe it's coming. And if it's not really coming, the whole basement thing is much too inconvenient to bother with.

Could it be the aversion therapy is working?

Let's be honest. Our culture is saturated with the idea that anyone who really lives out their faith with conviction and passion is either a loon or a moron.

The more I’m aware of it the more I notice it, especially in TV shows and movies. If there’s a Christian character, odds are he’s a creep, hypocrite, idiot, weasel, coward, or unbearably judgemental SOB.

Opinion-shapers in America today seem terrified of serious faith and do everything they can to make it as repulsive as possible. 

And in my opinion, they’re succeeding - with the general population, certainly, but even with believers.

The problem is, when we buy into this imagery, it affects how we act. How many of us want to see ourselves as insane, obnoxious, despicable, pathetic or repulsive? 

Could it be that we assume too much?

Our world is not the world of the first century where early Christians got to tell the Truth for the very first time to people who had never heard it.

Our hearers have almost certainly already heard it and rejected it. So why, we may ask ourselves, bother them with it again?

Or could it be a matter of ruts?

I often think how much simpler it would be if I could just start fresh. If I moved to a place where no one knew me, I could easily reinvent myself as a proselytizing kind of man.

But that’s hard to do in the world I already inhabit.

We work out a routine, a way of being in relation to others that a shift to proselytizer would probably upset.

If others have come to know me as the serious hard worker, or the always funny guy, or the quiet keep to myselfer - would they be able to suddenly shift all that prior knowledge into seeing me as “spiritual guide”?

And wouldn’t they legitimately ask not only “Why are you telling me this?” but “Why are you telling me this now?”

I’d have no good answer for that.

To be honest, I have a few more thoughts on this topic, but I’m going to practice self-control and not “meditate” on them just now. So, more to come.

Thank you for reading!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Help from a brother in Japan

This week has been a strange week for me, blod-wise. 
In the 10 months I've been doing this weekly posting, I've never yet struggled to find a topic. In fact, most of the time, I have a stack of half-written blods sitting around waiting their turn.

But this week I had nothing.
And when I tried to think of something, all I got was either annoying mental silence or, even worse, meaningless mental cacophony.

Even when I prayed for something, I got nothing. Well, nothing except a strong sense that I needed to just wait. So I waited. 

And I wasn't even stressed about it.
Until this morning.

Because eventually the time came when I had to get out of bed. And even though I could stall for quite a while taking care of the dog and making coffee, I knew I still had to sit down at this keyboard and write something meaningful.
In my mind, "This page intentionally left blank" was not an option.
It may be old age, but I've noticed recently that I'm getting very good at procrastinating. And so it didn't really surprise me much when I decided to browse through the internet a while before getting down to any serious work.

So at 8:50 this morning I pulled up everyone's best friend and nemesis, Facebook.

And there it was. At the very top of my wall was the inspiration that had alluded me all week.

And even better (I love how God works!), it came from my own daughter. She was actually posting it last night as I walked past her on my way to bed so I didn't have to work on this blod.

Here's what she put out there for me - and all the world - to see:

This was forwarded from a family friend who lives in Japan.  

This is an English translation of the recent email from pastor Yoshitaka Ikarashi who is serving only 42 kilometers from the nuclear plant in Fukushima. This came in only 10 min ago. 

Dear families in Christ, I just received a good news. They just started the repair works on the electric pipe at the Fukushima First Nuclear Plant. 

The man in charge of the project is a Christian man named Mr. Naoyoshi Sato. If this attempt goes successfully, the critical situation here turns around 180 degree. 

Let us pray in one heart for him! Pray that Christ love and anointing will be on him. May God's Wing and the heavenly hosts surround and protect him! 

As Daniel was, may no fire of harm touch him in God's perfect protection! 

Yesterday, I was told that workers for spraying water on the plant was short. I prayed that Christians be sent. Someone who already has the eternal life, someone who already is promised for bodily resurrection, someone who is with all knowing and all mighty God is suit for this job. 

Please Jesus, Be the shield for this brother! And may people around him witness the miraculous hand of God move on and through him! I pray this in Jesus' name. Amen.

Pastor Yoshitaka Ikarashi

To me, it was worth the wait.

I'm not exactly sure why, but every time I read this I get teary and my throat feels funny. It may be the way this letter brings home (like no objective news program ever could) the reality of what's happening over there. It may be the faith and love for his people that overflows from this man into his words. It may just be a reminder of all the strong, beautiful, wonderful, amazing Japanese Christians I've been blessed to know.
I don't know. For whatever reason, it moves me tremendously, and when I saw it I had no doubt that I needed to share it here as well, for those who aren't friends with my daughter on Facebook.

I truly believe this is why God wouldn't give me any other topic all week. Being as stubborn as I am, I likely would't have put mine aside to publish His!

All this week I kept believing the Lord would provide a word for His people. Naturally, I thought that meant He would speak through me.

But this is so much better.

Instead, I am blessed to be the mouth for Pastor Ikarashi - a man I've never met, will almost certainly never meet, but could not respect more.

Listen carefully. You can hear it in his words. What beauty and power and hope are in the kingdom of our God!


Saturday, March 12, 2011

Three unrelated thoughts on Mark chapter 4

Thought #1
I do believe I’ve managed to create the most boring blog title ever!

Thought #2
One day Jesus was out teaching, and a whole bunch of people started to listen.

"And he was teaching them many things in parables."

And when He was done, He said this: "He who has ears to hear, let him hear."

I pick up the narrative at chapter 4 verse 10:

And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. And he said to them, "To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that
'they may indeed see but not perceive,
and may indeed hear but not understand,
lest they should turn and be forgiven.'"

This never made much sense to me. I always wondered two things:
1.   Why does it sound like God does not want them to understand, turn and be forgiven?

2.   Why was it "given" to these people to get the explanations while everyone else had to flounder in confusion and/or misunderstanding? 

This week I think I found an answer.
Could it be that they got the answers very simply because they wanted them? Because they stuck around after everyone else had gone home in order to get the answers? Because they (like everyone else in the crowd) knew that the stories were important but confusing and hard to understand, and they (unlike everyone else in the crowd) were willing to sacrifice American Idol or the beginning of CSI to dig deeper?

Makes sense to me.

But why is God okay with it - like in that quote from Isaiah within the quote from Jesus? 

I still don’t have a great answer for that. But I wonder if it isn’t basically the same idea. If we are content to not understand, not commit, not put in the effort to grow, God’s not going to force us. After all, Jesus did say that if we have the ears to hear (i.e., a willingness to hear) we will hear!

I don’t believe for a moment that God’s happy we won’t bother seeing, hearing, or turning. But He is willing to let us be blind, deaf and dead-in-the-water if that’s what we really want.

Thought #3
Later that same day, Jesus and the Disciples got into a boat. It was almost dark.

"Let us go across to the other side." Jesus told them.

And then He fell asleep. 

But that was okay because Jesus wasn't in charge of anything on the boat. He was a "land-guy". They were fisherman. They knew what they were doing.

But just when they'd gone far enough away from land to be in seriously deep water, a huge storm came up. It was so big, in fact, that these seasoned veterans of the lake lost all hope of survival. They were so sure they were going to die that they woke Jesus up to witness it. And not only did they wake Him - they woke Him in a sassy, sarcasm-ridden panic.

"Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?"

Jesus, ignoring their momentary insubordination, got up, then with a couple of words shut down the storm completely, and turned to them.

I imagine Him looking each one of them right in the eye. And when every head is hung in shame, He says softly, "Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?"


"Do you still have no faith?"

That's what bothered Him?

How about, "So, that's how you talk to your rabbi, huh? And you know very well I'm not just any rabbi!"

Nope - it was the faith issue.

So how exactly, I asked myself, did they demonstrate their lack of faith in that moment? Sure, they based their assessment of the situation on their senses and experience. But to some degree we’re certainly allowed to do that. Really, based on the storm-at-hand, they seem pretty solid in their conclusion. After all, they were the experts!

But when I think more about it I come to see two ways:

1.   They questioned Jesus’ concern for them. When I say to my wife (for example) "Are you just going to leave me out here in the snow all night?!?" I am actually seriously concerned that her plan is to leave the doors locked with me outside.1 The Disciples seem to have thought that Jesus was perfectly willing to let them die in that storm without lifting a finger to help.

2.   They heard the Word, but they either did not pay enough attention to catch it, or they caught it but failed to believe it. (And so believed their senses instead…)

Right before they got into the boat, Jesus said: "Let's go over to the other side."

He did not say: "Let's go out to the middle and sink."

The difference is significant!

The Disciples knew the plan, but they lost sight of His ability to carry it out.

So, there you have it - three unrelated thoughts on Mark chapter 4.

1 – And please note: My wife would never actually do anything like this, no matter how much I might deserve it sometimes. This is, however, a true story. I heard it from a coworker (who played the wife in this account). And I can vouch for her sincerity when I say that she was indeed perfectly willing to leave him out there. In fact, she turned out the lights and went upstairs to bed long before he found a way in!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Good News for Numbies (You know..., like "for Dummies"...?)

How easy it is to get numb to amazing things.

It's like last summer when we traveled to Montana. We were the only ones slamming on the brakes and pulling over to the side of the road to take pictures of the incredible scenery around us. The locals, I guess, had seen it already.

The same kind of thing happened to me when I moved to Japan. For the first few weeks I was constantly dazzled, spinning with wonder at all the new sounds, smells, tastes, architecture, street-scenes, etc, etc, etc. But soon it wore off, and it was just a place I lived. The second it became home, it was no longer mind-blowing.

And just this morning my daughter told me about the flesh-melting reek in one of her labs at school - and how after you've been in there for a while you don't even notice it anymore.

Humans adapt.
Often that's a good thing.
But sometimes it's such a shame.

And that's why it's so refreshing when we're treated to a little shock - when the Holy Spirit shines a sharp light on something we know and have grown numb to, so that for one thrilling moment it becomes shiny and new all over again.

This happens to me quite a bit.

In fact, everything I write about in this blod I write about because it thrills me. But almost none of it is new to me. I often find the same old ideas noted in my journals from years ago, and I can say with absolute certainty that no Scripture I get excited about is something I've never read before.

But, we see, and we know, and we adapt. And the thrill wears off.
With this in mind, let me invite you to read the next three sentences as if it were the very first time.

Forget you've ever seen them, and let the wonder fill you.

    I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace.
    In the world you will have tribulation.
    But be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.1

Wow, right?
What an incredible statement this is!
I would even say that these words of Jesus belong on everyone's list of "Best News Ever".

Much of the beauty is in the simplicity - so few words with so much meaning. But the real power lies in understanding those few words. And that means digging just a little deeper. (But don't let go of the wonder just yet!)

    "Tribulation" means pressure, affliction, distress, pain and oppression. It's what we'll experience during our lifetimes. It's not even a possibility - it's a promise.
    "Peace" (security, tranquility, fearlessness and rest) is what we are able to have despite the tribulation, and during even the most trying of times.

    "Good cheer" = comfortedcourageousstrengthened. Often translated as "take heart".
    "Overcome" means conquer, vanquish and take absolute victory over. It means that the tough times cannot break us, and they will not leave us eternally bruised. The power they had to do so (and they did have it once) has been destroyed.

In other words:
We are delivered. We are empowered.
We can suffer and at the same time know tranquility.

    In the world you will have tribulation.
    But be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.

Now, enjoy the shivers while they last!


1 - John 16:33