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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Miracle of the Mundane

Did Jesus do dishes?  The very question sounds sacrilegious.  That might be the point.  Sometimes our “religion” prism causes us to miss the real miracle about Jesus.  The whole idea of “religion” tends to confine our thinking to “church” related activities and theological conversations.  To most people, Jesus never enters day-to-day conversation because to do so is to introduce “religion,” and daily life is uncomfortable with religion.

Those who knew Jesus, who met him, heard him, saw him, ate with him and walked with him were struck by his humanity.  He was real, but, as some say, “not real religious.”  He went to the synagogues and spoke there, but it was the religious people who had difficulty with him.  He ate with tax collectors, visited with prostitutes and befriended lepers, violated religious laws by healing the sick and allowing his disciples to harvest grain on the Sabbath.

Jesus’ divinity was there for all to see:  he made the blind see, caused the deaf to hear, lifted the lame to walk and raised the dead.  Even the wind and the sea obeyed him.  But, as important as all those things were, especially to the individuals who experienced it, he elevated the mundane to the miraculous.

John described him like this:  “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.” (1 John 1:1) The Word became flesh and lived among us and we saw his glory, glory as the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14). The writer of Hebrews wrote:  “For we have not a high priest who is not touched with our infirmities but was tempted in all ways like as we are, yet without sin.” 

The Bible never says that Jesus did the dishes.  It does say that he washed feet. Which, it seems to me, required a great deal more humility than washing dishes.  I expect dishes were prized possessions in most homes of Galilee. They weren’t cheap.  You could not pick up dishes at the local Walmart or the Dollar store.  They were all hand crafted and often passed down from generation to generation.  Most homes likely had little more than the bare essentials when it came to dishes. They did not pile up in the sink waiting for someone to unload the dishwasher.  But I wouldn’t be surprised if Jesus helped his mother out, or even lent a hand to Martha in the kitchen at Bethany, and washed dishes.

I always think my wife will be most impressed when I buy her flowers.  She does appreciate them and she likes them. But what she really seems to like is the times that I do the dishes.  It may be that the most spiritual thing you may do today is to do the dishes.  It could be a God thing.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Memorial Day - Remembering

Tom Brokaw called them “The Greatest Generation.”  They grew up in the Great Depression.  They drove some of the first automobiles on the first paved highways in America. They went to work for the Works Progress Administration and built our nation’s infrastructure.  They strung wires across our country and brought electricity and telephones to homes throughout America. They bought radios and invented the first television. They landed on the beaches at Normandy, raised the flag atop Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima and defended our freedom in World War II.  They were the first to enter space and chose to go to the moon.  Today, their generation is vanishing from the earth. They once numbered more than twelve million but only 1.2 million survive. One thousand members of the WW II generation die every day.  

On Memorial weekend we remember those who have gone before and paved the way for our future.

My father’s brother entered Nuremberg, Germany on April 14, 1945 as a tank commander in the final push to occupy the city.  Years later, when my wife and I went to Nuremberg to serve an English speaking church, he remembered, with the quick smile that always illumined his face, that it was difficult to get a tank through the narrow streets of the old city. 

He was wounded in the battle and spent three months convalescing in the hospital in Nuremberg.  With the war over, he toured Italy and Switzerland for few months following the war, then headed home.  His first agenda was to seek out the love he left behind  They were soon married and spent more than sixty years as husband and wife.

He was a gifted artist.   One of his paintings hangs on the wall of my office, a family treasure reminding me of his love and encouragement across the years. 

In his later years the sounds of artillery returned to haunt him, one of the incurable symptoms of post-traumatic stress.  Crowds and locations with loud noises bothered him. But he remained outgoing, enjoying friends and family. 

As his health declined he faced death with the same courage, confidence and faith with which he faced it in his youth.  He was buried January a year ago at the Oakwood Cemetery in Waco, Texas. 

This weekend I will remember Richard H. Tinsley, as we all remember those close to us who have been willing to put their lives on the line for our country.  Jesus said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friend.”  (John 15:13).

Monday, May 12, 2014

Nigeria: Setting the Captives Free

On April 14, the Islamic extremist group, Boko Haram, abducted more than 300 girls who were taking exams at the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok, Nigeria.  Fifty-six managed to escape. But 276 remain captive.  Amnesty International reported that the Nigerian government had four hours of warning before the abduction, but did not act for fear of engaging the armed rebels. It appears the majority of the girls are Christians who are being threatened with their lives to convert to Islam.

The Boko Haram leader initially vowed to sell the girls, some of them into Cameroon and Chad.  More recently he has sought to use many of them as hostages promising their release in exchange for Boko Haram prisoners held in Nigeria.  

This Saturday, May 17, France will host a summit where representatives from Chad, Cameroon, Niger, Benin, the United States and Britain will meet with the President of Nigeria.  The event has refocused the world on the widespread problem of Islamic extremism and human trafficking. 

Around the world, the poor, oppressed and helpless continue to be forced into prostitution and slave labor. They become victims in wars that seem to never end. The absence of human dignity, respect, compassion and justice is appalling. According to the U.S. Department of State, “There are approximately 600,000 to 800,000 children, women and men trafficked across international borders annually.” 80% of these are women and girls. Up to 50% are minors.

Sometimes we are overcome with the evil that exists in the world.  But widespread violence and injustice is not new.  King David wrestled with the same realities in Psalm 10.  He wrote:
Why do you stand afar off, O Lord? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?  In pride the wicked hotly pursue the afflicted. … His eyes stealthily watch for the unfortunate.  He lurks in a hiding place as a lion in his lair.  …  O Lord, You have heard the desire of the humble. You will strengthen their heart. You will incline your ear to vindicate the orphan and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth will no longer cause terror.”
Jesus had no illusions about the world and its evil.  He predicted we would have wars and rumors of wars. That nation would continue to rise up against nation. But He also had no illusion about the purpose of His coming.  He said, “ The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor.  He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives and the recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”(Luke 4:18-19).

In a world that harbors pervasive evil, we must continue to pray and work for the release and rescue of these girls in Nigeria while we seek to establish justice and righteousness around the world.  

Monday, May 5, 2014

Mothers Day

This week we will honor our mothers.  Husbands, sons and daughters will elbow their way to the greeting card displays in search of the perfect card.  Florists will put on extra staff to handle the demand. Restaurants brace for business.

Regardless of our nationality, ethnicity or gender, we were each carried in our mother’s womb, given birth through her labor and, in almost all cases, nursed and nourished to life by her care.  It is fitting that we set aside this special day.

No office and no position wields greater power and influence over the future of humanity than the influence of a mother.  The memories and lessons given in infancy at a mother’s hand surpass every other classroom and instruction.  The faith of a mother inspires and instructs more effectively than any pulpit or pen.

We see it in history, and we see it in the Bible.

In a log cabin in Kentucky, Nancy Hanks Lincoln recognized the early gifts in her child.  She not only taught him to read, but instructed him in the principles that would shape his life.  Without Nancy, and Sarah, who became step mother to her children after Nancy’s death, it is unlikely that Abraham Lincoln would have ever surfaced to lead our nation in its greatest hour of crisis.

If it were not for Moses’ mother, the world would have never known the great law-giver who led Israel from captivity and gave us the Ten Commandments.  It was she who hid him in the reeds at the river to save his infant life and it was she who cared for him in Pharaoh’s court. 

How many mothers have petitioned God for the birth of a child, as Hannah prayed in the presence of Eli, the prophet?  Without her prayer, Samuel would not have been born, and would not have been present to anoint David, the king of Israel.

In the fullness of time, in an obscure  Galilean village, another young woman  lifted up her eyes to heaven and sang, “My soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has had regard for the humble state of His handmaiden; for behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed. For He that is mighty has done to me great things, and holy is His name.” (Luke 1:46-49).  Without Mary we would never have known Jesus, and the world would remain lost in its sins without a Savior.

Paul referred to the importance of a mother’s faith when he wrote to his young protégé, Timothy: “For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that it is in you as well.”  (1 Timothy 1:5). 

This Mother’s Day stands as a memorial to all our mothers who have shaped us and made a better world.  It also stands as a challenge to all those young women who give birth to the next generation and shape the future of the world to come.