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Echoes Blog

The Significant Ones

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Christ chose to be the socially insignificant one. The fact that he descended from heaven to take upon himself the form of a servant is not an accident which now is to be thrust into the background and forgotten. No, every true follower of Christ must express existentially the very same thing – that insignificance and offense are inseparable from being a Christian. As soon as the least bit of worldly advantage is gained by preaching or following Christ, then the fox is in the chicken house.

Soren Kierkegaard, in Provocations (quoted by Plough Publishing House, “Daily Dig” email devotional, 11/15/17)

Sometimes in the life of faith we can only laugh at ourselves, confess our sin, and see that while we try to live as Christians there are moments when the best we can do is just look at the ideal from a distance. It’s natural, isn’t it, to want recognition for doing the right thing, to want success to attend faithful living, to measure our value by what others say to us or about us? There’s nothing really wrong with that, as long as we keep it in balance. Right? It’s just part of being human. 

But then there’s this Jesus, who didn’t seem to live that way. 

How many lives of deep and lasting faith, of simple and contagious joy, of steady and noble resilience carry on every day, moment after moment—hidden from our view? How many lives do you not even notice, but which make a positive impact on a higher percentage of folks in their orbit than the most famous among us? 

Perhaps value isn’t volume, but quality. 

Perhaps faith isn’t knowledge, but trust. 

Perhaps love is more secret than dramatic. 

Perhaps there’s a difference between a “faith-model” and a “role-model,” if the roles we aspire to are shaped by a society that values success over service. 

Perhaps the “faith-model,” while harder to find because hidden, is the model we want.

Insignificance? In whose eyes? God often sees a bit differently than we do.

 

 

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Psalm 13

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? Consider and answer me, O Lord my God! Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death, and my enemy will say, “I have prevailed”; my foes will rejoice because I am shaken. But I trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.

Last week I celebrated my 40th birthday, but it was a bittersweet celebration. See, as I was celebrating my birthday, I was mourning the death of two friends. The passing of my friends could not have been more different. One, a 20-year-old former student whose life was cut short due to addiction. The second, a former co-worker who retired just over a year ago. She lived a healthy life and only ten months ago was given a clean bill of health and yet just months later she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer that took her life. 

On the night of my 40th birthday, after trick-or-treating, I tucked my kids in bed, and as I did, I couldn’t help but think about how fragile life is. As I snuggled with my children I thought about the words of Job, “the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). Despite what has gone on during the day, every night when I tuck my kids into bed I look at them, and I thank God for the gift that they are in my life. I know that they do not belong to me, but to God, but it is my job to protect, love, and guide them as long as they are under my care.

In light of all of this on Sunday night at youth group, we were talking about doubt. The question we discussed was “Is it okay to doubt God?” Some students said “yes,” and some said “no” so a discussion ensued. In our discussion, we talked about the difference between questioning God and doubting God, and are they the same?

As I have been pondering the difference, I realized that despite the recent events, my faith in God hasn’t changed. God is still my hope and my strength. However, I don’t have to like events that happen in life. It is okay to ask God why? Why does a 20-year-old have to die? Why does someone who just recently retired and was planning on enjoying retirement have to die? Why do 26 people in Texas who were attending church have to be killed? Why? 

If you are one that believes that God is the cause of these events and others like them, I can understand how you might doubt the existence of God. However, pain and suffering was never God’s plan. The plan was that everything was “good” but then sin and suffering entered the picture. During our discussion, I was reminded that even in the moment that Adam and Eve ate the fruit from the middle of the garden and they realized they were naked, God loved them so much that he provided clothing for them. After Cain kills his brother, God puts a mark of protection on him so that no one will harm him. Even in our worst moments, God’s love is there.  We look and see how God, despite his actions, protected Cain, but we are left with the question, what about his brother Abel, whom he killed? Where was God’s protection for him? 

Bad things happen in the world, and it seems like there is more and more bad things happening each day, yet that was not God’s plan. God did not want pain and suffering in the world, yet it has become part of our daily lives. Of the 150 Psalms in the Bible, 65 of them are considered Psalms of lament. One third are Psalms that cry out to God from times of grief and crises, “why?”  Despite not ever having a response from God, most end in a similar fashion to Psalm 13, “But I trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.” I hope.

Each year as I turn another year older, I am reminded of my own mortality. I am reminded that each day is precious, every moment is fading, and every breath could be my last. In those moments I am reminded of the important things in life, the things that truly matter. It is funny that the things we often put so much time and effort into like work, school, and sports, don't mean as much as loving and being loved. As I get older, I realize more each day that the love I share and the love I experience can only be done in the light of my relationship with God through Jesus Christ. 

Life is fragile.  Life is a short.  Life is a gift given to us by God.  It is too short to live with hate and fear, so I choose to love. I choose to live life in the hope that is in Jesus Christ, who told us to, “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. And to love your neighbor as yourself.” 

It is ok to be angry and to be sad. It is ok to ask God, “Why?” But it is also important to remember that our hope comes from the Lord, who came to the earth out of love, and died so that we might live. Let us not waste another moment in fear or hate, but live and love, so that when our time on earth comes to an end, people might know God, through the love of Christ that we lived out in our lives.

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When we talk about the wall at the Mexican American border, tensions always rise.  Opinions have been formed and we aren’t interested in changing them. People prepare to defend their views or silently back out of the conversation because they don’t want to talk about it. Either way, we have put up our borders around our feelings about the border.  The challenge with borders and walls is that we don’t always know what is on the other side.

It was with this curiosity that a team of twelve crossed the Mexican American border to learn about life south of our physical border with the leadership of Frontera de Cristo and their partners.  As we prepared to cross the border we saw the tall steel wall that divided the United States and Mexico. We watched the lines of cars waiting to cross from one side to the other, some people casually walking and riding their bikes from stores and work to go home on the other side.

It wasn't until we had crossed the border and settled into our living space for the weekend that the other borders began to appear.  Language, family size, health, jobs, school experience, and opportunities began to become clear.  We visited with families who shared their experiences of looking for work, seeking safety, and building a family.  Many of the struggles that the families experienced were much harder than our group had experienced throughout our lifetime and yet we could still understand their needs.  We visited with a community garden and after school program to help children get extra help and learn about Jesus.

At first it was the borders that stood out, but slowly the borders suddenly began to fade, instead it was the similarities.  We learned that healthcare wherever you are is difficult. We visited with families who had disabilities who depend on a volunteer organization to provide all of their medical care—check-ups, wheelchairs, eye glasses, dental visits etc.

We discovered that every country including Mexico is trying to protect their borders.  No one has solved the problem of refugees seeking safety and health, no matter the costs. 

Laughing, singing, learning and playing are the same for everyone.  Seeing a smile on someone’s face is more than a thousand words.

We visited with people and groups from all over the city, from a community garden, to a refugee shelter, worship, building projects and Bible program.  And each visit brought down more walls, some that we didn’t even know that we had.

It is amazing how easy it is to build a fortress around ourselves. Borders are not just about issues in politics, but walls that keep us from seeing others.  Jesus tells us to “love our neighbors as ourselves.” How can we do that we when we put up walls to protect us from seeing through someone else’s eyes?  Walls that keep us from seeing the poor and all the scope of their challenges.  Walls that keep us from thinking about what it might be like to be someone from a different race or ethnicity.  Walls that keep us from wondering what people experience as the opposite gender.

Every person and experience is different.  Each wall we build keeps us from seeing someone else’s point of view and then we judge unfairly and treat each other without respect. We forget that we are all humans beloved by our one God. 

I didn’t expect political views to change, but what was so amazing about this trip was the way we were able to step into another place and see things from someone else’s perspective.  It is hard and scary to take down walls and see beyond ourselves. But I hope you do it.  It was a gift that each of these people whom we met in Agua Prieta shared a little bit of themselves with us. 

I pray that when you look into someone else’s eyes, you might wonder what walls and barriers have they built? What fears hold them back? What brings them joy? And they might do the same with you.

An Offer We Shouldn’t Refuse

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“Take a day off!” These words evoke a blissful state. Especially during long stretches of workaday life or a busy retirement, a day off begins to take on mythical, wistful, almost dreamy proportions.

Consider this: the ancient Israelites worked for 400 years as slaves under Pharaohs in Egypt, and Pharaohs didn’t give days off. Because Israelites made bricks for their building projects, and their building projects were their legacy, taskmasters drove them every day, day after day after day.

So imagine Israel’s joy when God rescued them from Egypt, led them out to Mount Sinai, and shouted, “My people, take a day off!” The fourth commandment begins, “Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. For six days, you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. You shall not do any work.” Four hundred years of weekend-less work and God interrupts it with Sabbath.

That Top Ten in Exodus 20 is famous. Some judges want to nail them to courtroom walls, because they’ve guided lives well for millennia. But when I consider the lives of the people who first received them, I imagine Sabbath may have been the only commandment of the Ten that actually drew applause. All the others are important. This one is an invitation to something deeply pleasant.

Our culture celebrates freedom. The U.S. was founded on the principle of liberty for all, and we celebrate an Emancipation Proclamation that hoped to make that liberty universal among us. But over the last half-century, you and I have quietly, gradually, almost unwittingly, voluntarily submitted to a ruthless taskmaster called “24/7.” We have chosen to build a stress-abounding world of 24-hour cable, seven-day-a-week commerce, and a break-neck pace of life that is unrivaled in human history.

As we sprint our fast-paced lives and jam-packed schedules, God shouts to us from Mount Sinai: “Take the day off! Let’s get some time together. Let’s get you some rest. Come on over to Sabbath Town!” How shall we respond? We could ignore the invitation, noses to the grindstone, and soldier on? Or we could cheer in blissful gratitude and shout back, “OK…But how?!”

This Fall, as pace quickens leading to the holidays, with culture pressing us to say “Yes!” to more and more demands and Type A drivers pushing us like lemmings to the sea, you and I can shout our resolute “Yawp!” When we say “No!” to the next schedule-stuffing demand, we leave room to say “Yes!” to our creator – to pause, to live more intentionally, to make Sabbath a way of life. Every week, God invites us to Sabbath rest. What will be your RSVP?

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A professional team of Indians from various tribes, playing together as the Hominy Indians (from Hominy, Oklahoma), took on the 1927 World Champion New York Giants in an exhibition game that many assumed would be rather dominating for the champions. The Giants had just gone 11-1 during the regular season, absolutely dismantling most of their competition. Over their twelve games, the champions scored a total of 197 points and held their opponents to just 20 points over that stretch.

On December 27, the Indians and Giants engaged in a ferocious contest in front of over 2,000 fans. The Hominy squad defeated the NFL champions and won by a score of 13 to 6, in what became one of the most unexpected upsets in football history. [Look at a trailer of a documentary film about the Hominy Indians vs. NY Giants game- Playground of the Native Son (Official Trailer) https://vimeo.com/88536157

Making the unlikely defeat of the Giants by an American Indian team all the more startling is the story of the reign of terror against the Osage that was taking place at the same time! The New York Times bestseller Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann tells the terrible true story of how a vast oil deposit found on an Indian reservation in the 1920s precipitated fraud and murder. The Osage had become the richest people per capita in the world. But the U.S. government -- supposedly to protect the Osage from mismanaging their new-found wealth -- assigned white guardians to oversee the oil revenues. Abuse and fraud became rampant, as did homicide. One-by-one, it seemed, the Osage were being murdered. It became known as the Reign of Terror. "There were shootings, there were poisonings, one man was thrown off a speeding train, there was a bombing," said Grann. "The terror was enormous, because nobody knew who would be next. But also, nobody was doing anything to stop it".  See a CBS News piece https://www.cbsnews.com/news/killers-of-the-flower-moon-revisiting-the-reign-of-terror-on-the-osage-nation/. There is a Martin Scorsese film starring Leonardo DiCaprio & Robert De Niro based on the story in the works.

A word about Hominy:
Osage Chief Pawhuska was responsible for naming the settlement called Hominy though he almost certainly intended to have the town named Harmony but was misunderstood. The chief grew up next to a mission founded in 1821 by the United Foreign Missionary Society of N.Y., supported by Presbyterian, Congregational, and Dutch Reformed churches. The name of the mission was Harmony and the 41 members of the mission family (25 adults, 16 children), were teachers, mechanics, farmers, and ministers who sought to bear witness to God’s intention for people to live harmoniously in community together.

A word about Pawhuska:
About 20 years ago, I pastored the Presbyterian churches in Hominy and Pawhuska, so both of the above stories shocked me when I first heard them. You may know of Pawhuska since it's become famous again as home to Ree Drummond, Pioneer Woman, an award-winning American blogger, New York Times bestselling author, food writer, and television personality http://thepioneerwoman.com. During my years in Pawhuska I had a number of extraordinary experiences as God's people impacted the community in powerful ways. In the late 1990s pastors in the community began praying together. Soon there were communitywide praise services, cooperative youth initiatives, a Holy Week Passover Seder meal attended by nearly 15% of the town's population, and an outreach mission called “Hearts and Hands: Putting Love into Action.” Since then, over 50 low income homeowners have had their houses repaired and safety issues addressed by church and community members every April. Truly a mission of HARMONY!

The world we live in is desperate for change! Pinnacle’s Wednesday series on Transformation made it clear that one way the world changes is when people in community live outwardly in ways Jesus calls his followers to live. Our nation and world need God’s people to live out a mission of harmony perhaps as much now as anytime in recent history. Do you believe that a small band of Jesus’ followers can change the world? I do! Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

There are giant obstacles to peace and harmony in the world - terrorist acts, mass violence of all kinds, our own political leaders instigating people against one another. But, we must believe that peace is indeed possible and the Spirit will show us the way to live in peace and harmony wherever we are. I believe that with God’s help, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we can defeat the GIANTS in the land… by at least 13-6.