A City Upon a Hill…

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven                                                                                                                            Matthew 5:14-16

 

Reading this passage from the incomparable Sermon on the Mount recorded in Matthew 5, I was reminded again of the concept about the “city on the hill” which would be a light for others to follow. An example of freedom and right living that could serve as an example to the rest of the world- a new order of freedom which could fulfill these words that Jesus spoke.

John Winthrop in 1630 gave a lecture titled “A Model of Christian Charity” in which he used the phrase “as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us”. He meant that this new Puritan experiment of coming to America would serve as a model to the rest of the world. He warned that such a model could be for good or bad. The eyes of the world were on them, and they could determine if this experiment would result in a shining light or as a dire warning to others.

Through the years many speakers, politicians and leaders have alluded to that phrase, stating that America is that light on the hill- a beacon of hope to the rest of the world.

I hope so.

This statement has also been tied to the concept of America’s civil religion, which is a whole other topic, but I am thinking of it in the context that Jesus gave in Matthew 5. He said that we should “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

There have been some spectacular examples of America being that light on the hill to a weary and broken world. Our involvement in World War I as American strength helped to end the butchery of that war which engulfed Europe and much of the world. Again in World War II where America intervened and helped end brutal, oppressive dictatorships and genocide. The Marshall Plan which helped stave off starvation in a ravaged Europe. Medical intervention in Africa and other areas of the world during the AIDS crisis under George W. Bush in 2003 which saved millions of lives.

These are just a few large examples which come to mind quickly-there are many others. In fact, I encourage my readers to fill in the others that come to mind. It is probably healthy these days to call to mind those many examples of American leadership and generosity.

Every day, American generosity around the world is saving lives. However, Winthrop’s words were a warning too. Not everyone sees America as the shining light of freedom and generosity, because there have been too many examples of injustice and oppression in our own land.

I do believe that America is a wonderful country full of generous, hard-working people, who have been given the gift of unique government by our founders. I trust that we can be, in many ways, that light shining on the hill. However we need to remember the end of the passage- that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Prayer: Father we have been given great gifts in our country, help us to use those gifts wisely and generously for your glory, Amen.

 

The Real Miracle of Creation

 They will receive blessing from the Lord and vindication from God their Savior.                                                                                                                                             Psalm 24:5

Psalm 24 starts by reminding the reader of the truth of who owns the creation-the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.
The world and all its people belong to him. It was God’s plan and handiwork which brought about life, and all life is his. People argue about the mechanics of how the universe began, and it is a distraction from the miracle of creation. God has chosen to bless his creation, and the largest blessing is the fact that he has redeemed us from sin. Verse 5, stated above, tells us this very thing. God is identified as our Savior in this verse. Is there any more amazing revelation than that the creator of the universe is also its redeemer? This must change the way we see the character and nature of God.

Were he just the distant creator who simply wanted to be fascinated with his work, he would not be involved in our well-being. Were he simply a curious being who created this amazing universe to see how his creation would respond to it, he would also be distant and removed, like a scientist with an experiment.

But God created this universe as a loving being who wants us to ultimately spend eternity with him. Therefore, he has total and loving involvement, even to the point of providing the remedy for our sins. That is the miracle of creation.

 

Prayer: Father, thank you for loving us, and creating the worlds, not for your pleasure, but for our good. That is a love we cannot fathom, Amen

Attributes of an Ambassador

…that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.  We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.                                                                                                                                                                                    II Corinthians 5:19-20

Based upon Paul’s reference in II Cor. 5:19-20, I decided to look at what an ambassador does. We have been called “ambassadors of the kingdom of God”- God’s representatives on earth to attest to the good news of healing and redemption.

So, consider these principles of ambassadors, and see how they might fit into how we can be ambassadors for God in a world that can seem very foreign to us at times. If our job is to bring the principles of heaven to earth, think about where our “home country” is, and that we are just travelers on this earth for a period of time. Our real job is to convey the best interest of our sending authority.

An ambassador of the kingdom …

  • Is trustworthy. He/she will represent the interests of the sending authority
  • Has the full credit and authority of the sender
  • Is empowered to act on behalf of the sending authority
  • Is trusted not to exceed authority vested in her/him
  • Spreads good will on behalf of the sender
  • Understands the customs and culture of where he/she is sent
  • Understands the mission given by the sending authority
  • Speaks with the authority of the president/leader
  • Maintains close, regular communication with the sending authority
  • Actual citizenship remains in the sending country
  • Must learn to understand and affiliate with foreign assignment without losing sight of the mother country and citizenship
  • Helps to protect the interests of fellow citizens in a foreign land
Prayer: Thank you Lord for giving us the privilege to be ambassadors for your kingdom. Such a high privilege, help us to do it well, Amen

Freedom Isn’t Free

 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.  For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.                                                                                             Galatians 5:13-14 

I am a history buff (as if my readers didn’t know that), and I look at “Today in History” on some internet sites occasionally. Today, June 25, is the 70th anniversary of the start of the Korean War. Yes, it was a war, despite President Truman’s insistence on calling it a “police action”. It had been too soon since World War II had ended, so it was not a “war”, but a “police action”. Whatever it was, it was a bloody and costly conflict, and over 35,000 soldiers lost their lives in it. To add insult to injury, the public seemingly tried to act as if the war was non-existent, and the combatants never received the support they deserved for this deadly precursor to a war that brewed up just over a decade later. 

There is always a price for freedom- it comes at a cost. We tend to take for granted, or take advantage of, things that are given to us- things we did not pay for.

Jesus died to give us freedom from sin, and Paul reminded us that there is nothing that we can do to add to the complete cost that has been paid for our redemption. Our freedom from sin was paid at a very high cost. We also tend to devalue that for which we do not pay. Salvation is a gift, but there is an expectation that comes with this gift- we are to treat others with the same love that purchased our freedom. If we do not understand that the reason Jesus died for our sins was that he loved us so much, then we will not be able to pay that forward to others as is expected of us.

If we devalue the gift of salvation we may tend to feel that we have certain entitlements. We have freedom, but we do not have license. Our response to the gift of salvation must be to love one another, and not to use our gift selfishly to indulge our sinful, pleasure-seeking nature.

If we indeed choose the course of following Jesus, we have signed up for a life of loving others, serving them, and modeling the love of God without judgment. Jesus said that his burden is easy and his yoke is light, and it is true. Loving others then, when we see them in the light that God sees them, becomes a real possibility. God has given us the mission to be His models of love to others. So, there is a cost to the freedom we have been given- it is to love others as God has loved us.

By the way, this day in history also included the birth of my dear daughter, Jennifer. Happy Birthday, Jen, I love you!

Prayer: Father, your plan is at once simple and complicated. Thank you for the amazing plan that we are to have the real significance of being your representatives on earth. Help us to do it well, Amen.

Maggie’s Story

 And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God.  And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.     Luke 13:29-30
After this I looked, and there was an enormous crowd—no one could count all the people! They were from every race, tribe, nation, and language, and they stood in front of the throne and of the Lamb, dressed in white robes and holding palm branches in their hands.                                                 Revelation 7:9 (Good News Translation)

Years ago our family had a mutt- sorry, “mixed breed” – little dog we named Maggie. Maggie had come from an abusive home, rescued by a visiting nurse at our mental health center who had a big heart for dogs. She could not abide seeing a dog mistreated, so she took the dog with her from that abusive home, and brought her to our center. I wasn’t sure what to do with the dog, so naturally, I brought her home to my surprised wife and kids.

So, 17 years later, I had to have Maggie put to sleep because she had been suffering from various maladies of old age. She was a delightful dog. She was as fast as the wind and built like a whippet, but also possessing many other genes from various doggie types, I’m sure. Yes, she lived to be 17 years old. Mutts- sorry, “mixed breeds” will do that. Your purebreds? Not so much. Due to inbreeding, they often succumb to various diseases or genetic conditions before the “mixed breeds” do.

So, the point of this story? I find it ironic that we seem to value “pure breeding” so much. Indeed, royal families, often struggled with inherited diseases like porphyria because there was not enough genetic variety in the bloodline. Eugenics, popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, favored the idea of “breeding” ideal human specimens, weeding out “genetically inferior populations”. Indeed, Adolf Hitler was not by any means the only proponent of eugenics, just perhaps the most diabolical.

Jesus came from a line of “mixed breeds” in the genealogy provided in the gospel of Matthew. Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba are four women named in this line from which Jesus sprang. Tamar, was in the Hebrew line, but become pregnant by posing as a temple prostitute; Rahab was a prostitute/innkeeper from Jericho who aided the Israelites in their conquest of her city; Ruth was from Moab, home of a tribe of historically vicious rivals to the Israelites; and Bathsheba was a woman married to a Hittite man, taken by king David out of his sheer lust for her.

These were women from other countries, with provocative tribal and sexual backgrounds, all woven into the earthly line from which came Jesus. Safe to say that Jesus came from a “mixed background”.

Variety in genetic lines gives strength and resistance to us. Our very differences in background make us stronger. Jesus came from a diverse background to demonstrate that he is redeemer of all mankind, not just one tribe.  Now if we can just get the value of this diversity idea into our heads…

Prayer: Father, thank you for the plan of diversity that teaches us to value one anothers differences as strength to the whole of us, Amen.

 

 

 

Whose is it Anyway?

Yours, O Lord, is the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty. Everything in the heavens and on earth is yours, O Lord, and this is your kingdom. We adore you as the one who is over all things.  Wealth and honor come from you alone, for you rule over everything. Power and might are in your hand, and at your discretion people are made great and given strength.
 “O our God, we thank you and praise your glorious name!  But who am I, and who are my people, that we could give anything to you? Everything we have has come from you, and we give you only what you first gave us!                                                                                                I Chronicles 29:11-14

  

Americans are a generous people. This has been demonstrated time and again, especially in times of crisis. We also know that the motivator for giving is having the right perspective on it. The heart is the key to giving, not the amount given. The state of our heart should naturally be that of willingness and desire to give. Giving to others is a way to please God, whom we love by loving others.

How can we get the state of mind- the desire and willingness to give? The key concept is stated in I Chronicles 29:14. This verse states the obvious, but sometimes the obvious needs to be stated to get us back to our “right mind”. The obvious truth is, everything we give has already been given to us by God. Whatever we have been given is really not ours- it has been given to us by the hand of God. Therefore, can we rightly hold on to that which is not ours to begin with?

We can get pretty hung up with “our money” that we work so hard to earn. We take ownership of the resources which God has equipped us with. Were it not for our health, others around us, and the very ideas that God has put into our heads, we would not own any of our stuff.

Didn’t God create us, put us in the places we now occupy, and give us the opportunities to actually earn our income? All that we have has been put into our hand by God. Whether those resources are big or small as measured by worldly standards of wealth, they belong to God.

I am not discounting the hard work that we have done to acquire the wealth that we enjoy. We do work hard for our living. Yet those fruits are not gained simply by our work or talent alone. The essential tools have first been given to us.

The “disconnect” comes when we claim for ourselves what we believe to be “ours”. The world and all that is in it belongs to God. When we start holding back on giving to God what is rightly his, we strain our relationship with him. It becomes an indicator of deteriorating spiritual health.

Decisions on how we give are personal ones, informed by our beliefs and attitudes. I am so thankful that we are surrounded by examples of generosity. This gives me hope in a very stressful time. Giving is a great indicator of our heart condition.

“Right giving” leads to “right living”, and “right living” leads to “right giving”.

 

Prayer: Father, the world is indeed yours, and you have given us the gift of living in it. We thank you for this gift, and we willingly give back to you as an indicator of our thanks, amen.

 

Overcome Evil with Good

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.  Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.  Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.  Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.  Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.  Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.  Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.  If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay, says the Lord.  On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good
Romans 12:9-21

In this passage, Paul lays out a number of very practical rules for Christian living, much as he does in other books such as Galatians and Ephesians. In this passage, we are called to demonstrate our faith by not only loving our brothers and sisters, but by living out our faith in the face of those who would call us their enemy. Paul tells us to not repay evil for evil.

That is the way of the world, that is, to repay good for good, and evil for evil. The way of Satan is to pay evil for good, for his goal is to knock down those who would do good for the sake of right. We are challenged by Paul to feed our enemies, and to repay good for evil. In that way, it will be very clear that Christians are answerable to a higher calling- one that has turned the world system upside down. We are called to overcome evil with good. We are not able to do that if we become discouraged and defeated by evil. Paul said in verse 21, “Do not be overcome by evil…” It is easy for us to become fainthearted in the face of injustice, war, poor health, or poor treatment from others. We are called to overcome these setbacks by trusting in God for His provision, and becoming that provision for others, as we are called to do in verse 10 (“Honor one another above yourselves.”)

Paul’s message is simple, but it is not easy. It is not natural for us, it is supernatural. Living a life of repaying good all around us can only be done by abiding in Christ through his Holy Spirit. We can take heart in the behavior we see around us lived out through others in the faith. That will be a physical witness of the Spirit who dwells in us.

 

Prayer: Father, thank you for the simple message of living out our faith with the idea of honoring others above ourselves. We are far from perfect in this, but we ask your grace for the journey, Amen.

 

Is Everybody Angry?

As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;  for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. But from everlasting to everlasting the LORD’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children                                                                                                                 Psalm 103:13-17

 

Is it just me, or does it seem like a lot of people have anger just below the surface these days?  You know, there is just a sense that there is a collective irritability that gets played out in social media, and even mainstream media for that matter. Maybe a loss of civility is a better explanation, but I think the presence of the COVID-19 pandemic has been a catalyst for it.

I call it collective frustration.

I think this is the formula: Helplessness + Anger = Frustration. In so many ways, we have felt helpless in the battle against the Coronavirus. We have not yet developed a vaccine, so there is still need for caution. We desperately want a normal economy and lifestyle, but the virus still stymies those efforts, even as the economy opens back up.

So, we express this sense of helplessness as anger. It is much more acceptable to get angry than to admit to feeling helpless. Anger is sort of a default emotion. It is always there, lurking. Some access this emotion more easily than others. Usually though, there is something below the anger. Something deeper in our soul and mind. Sometimes it is unexpressed sadness. Very often it is fear. However, anger seems to be the workhorse of our emotions that is most easily accessed- our default mode if you will.

Deeper reflection will often give us the opportunity to identify what is really going on, but if we have very few margins- that is, if stress has built up and we feel that we have no good outlets, and no available solutions, we express this initially as anger.

I am frustrated too. I feel helpless in so many ways about the restrictions of my lifestyle brought on by this pandemic. Indeed, I am angry at the Coronavirus, but how can you really play that out?

Then I realize my limitations and the fact that God understands me. I think the verses from my favorite Psalm are appropriate today. This is Father’s Day (Happy Father’s Day, by the way to you dads). I take comfort that my heavenly Father knows how we are made, sees us as little children, and will care for us, even when we may feel that his presence is distant or gone.

Prayer: Thank you Father for your love for us, and your understanding that we are like little children. We take comfort in your care as loving parent, Amen.

 

Some Final Words on Hope

 

For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?  But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.                                                                                                                        Romans 8:24-25

 

Hope by definition is future oriented. We do not know the future, but we like to think that we can prepare for it. We have hope that the future will bring us what we need or desire. We like to have predictability and control, and if we don’t have that, we get anxious. The antidote to anxiety is control. The more we can control, the better handle on anxiety we feel we have. But, is that true? Well, we never really have control, just the illusion of it.

The results of hope are not seen. Those results lie in the future, and we count on the future being just a little better than what we currently have. People joke about the year 2020, and how this anticipated year has, so far, essentially brought us the misery of Coronavirus and racial strife.

It is not 2020’s “fault”, but we are ready for the hope of next year already. And it is only June. Next year might bring a vaccine for this dreaded COVID-19 pandemic. Next year might bring economic recovery. Next year might bring a return to what we came to see as normal living.

Whatever next year brings, we can HOPE that it is a relief from this year’s pain. The year 2021 will bring its own troubles, but our hope is that it will not be like 2020. It will be better.

The passage from Romans tells us that we must wait for it patiently. Indeed, we are anything but patient. However, we still must live in the present. Savor it for the moments of peace and pleasure that we derive from friends and family, as disrupted as that has been this year.

Be grateful for the blessings that we have right now. Hope for the future is good and helpful, but don’t let the present escape in the longing for the future.

Prayer: Lord, we are impatient people, always hoping for something different. Help us to live in the moment you have created, and be thankful for it.

 

More Hope…

Whoever was still alive had reason for hope                                                                                                    Viktor Frankl
Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms- to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way                                                     Viktor Frankl
But God will never forget the needy; the hope of the afflicted will never perish.                                 Psalm 9:18

 

I trust that many of my readers are familiar with Viktor Frankl. He was an Austrian psychiatrist, and a prisoner of Nazi concentration camps during World War II. He was a prisoner because he was Jewish.

During his time in the concentration camps, he witnessed the hopelessness and despair among many of the prisoners that one might naturally expect in such dreadful conditions. Frankl noted that those prisoners who gave up hope, those who did not see any meaning in life anymore, tended to die quickly. They had given up.

Those like Frankl, and the ones he tried to help in the camps, were able to see that, even in the most debasing of circumstances, there was something that could not be taken from them. They had a choice to hope.

Frankl survived the concentration camp experience, however his father and his wife did not. But Frankl’s story, tragic as it appears, was one of hope for many, because from it came his works about therapy and treatment of emotional problems. His ability to marry the concepts of human suffering with the remedy of hope and choice, gave rise to logotherapy. He infused psychiatry with a spiritual dimension framed in a positive light hitherto unseen in the field.

Hope is where we find it. Unfortunately, we might stop looking. Frankl endured terrible suffering, but he never completely lost hope because he found meaning in his suffering. He found that the Nazis could never imprison his mind, even if they had his body in prison.

We have been promised that God will never forget us in our time of need, even when we see no provision in front of us. The hope of his promises remains. 

Prayer: Thank you Father for infusing us with a spirit of hope, a spirit beyond us, resting in you, Amen.