Friday, March 25, 2011

Born Again

"Jesus replied, 'Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God [without being] born again'" (John 3:3).

The phrase "born-again Christian" has taken on a pejorative sense today, evoking images of holier-than-thou types who don't drink, dance, or have fun--and who threaten those who do with fire and brimstone. That is definitely not what Jesus had in mind when He spoke the words above.

And if we believe those same words, "born-again Christian" is a tautology; no one can be a real Christian without being born again. Christians as well as non-Christians frequently seem to have the idea that "born-again" Christians are a separate breed, more vocal and in-your-face than the average churchgoer, never missing an opportunity to advertise their beliefs at full volume. That image has likely been helped along as much by the "pew warmer" as by the "turn or burn" street preacher; it can be hard to find Christians who let their faith quietly show through their daily lives. Many, believers, nervous about being lumped with the born-again stereotype, overcompensate by treating their faith like a dark secret. That wasn't what Jesus had in mind either, He Who said "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" (Mt. 5:14-16). 

Not every lighthouse has a foghorn. But every lighthouse has a light.

Born again, born again,
Freed from the birthright-curse of sin:
Lord, all my thanks to You I give;
You gave Your life so I might live.

Born again, born again,
Thoroughly washed, now clean within:
Lord, now my voice to You I raise,
Swelling with gratitude and praise.

Born again, born again,
Looking for Heaven to come; till then,
Lord, may I serve You every day,
Walking forever in Your way.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Family Squabbles

If you're a parent of multiple children, chances are that some days you can't believe the ridiculous things they fight over. A cheap plastic toy. Who got the biggest cookie. Who cleared the table last time. How can anyone be so immature as to think such things worth spoiling family harmony over?

If you've ever gotten involved in settling the estate of someone who left a vaguely worded will--or none at all--chances are you couldn't believe the ridiculous things his heirs fought over. A cheap wristwatch. Who deserves a thousand dollars more. Who really did the most for the deceased. How can anyone be so immature as to think such things worth ruining family relationships over?

If you've ever been a bystander in a church split, chances are you couldn't believe the ridiculous things people fought over. Accusations of closet Satanism and counteraccusations of Pharisaism fly over differing tastes in music. Thirty-year members storm out the door over gym renovation budgets. The color of choir robes becomes a matter worthy of the Inquisition.
How can anyone be so spiritually immature as to think such things more important than Jesus's clear command in John 13:34-35: "Love one another.... [so that] everyone will know that you are my disciples"?

Some love the ancient hymns so proud and grand,
But some would rather sing a newer song.
The first say "pop" is of the cheapest brand;
The second say "outdated words" are wrong.
Some want their Bible texts like normal speech;
Some say we should go back and use King James.
While one calls "slang and such" a major breach,
One says that "thee" and "thou" are foreign names.
Some wouldn't touch a "drink" at point of gun;
Some say the Eucharist is best with wine.
Some think that dance and cards are harmless fun;
Some say our character is on the line.
And while we all proclaim our ways are right,
And scorn our brothers with "Heretic!" jeers, 
Our Lord, Who longs that we in love unite,
Looks down upon it all--and sheds His tears.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Trouble with Systems

I apologize for the long break since the last post. Call it sick leave: my stress levels, rarely comfortable, have hit near-record highs over the past few weeks. Posts may well continue to be sporadic for some time.

What really hurts is that just as God seems to be developing in me a solid sense of my long-term calling--"to write Christ's comfort to the stressed, depressed, and hard-pressed"--He also seems to have decided I need more experience as one of them. No sooner is one anxiety relieved than another asserts itself; and no matter what I do (including prayer) in terms of time management, there's never enough margin in a day to keep me from getting frazzled.

All too easily, time management mutates from a tool to aid in God's work into a substitute god; if you're anything like me, dropping an item from the schedule can feel like surgery without anesthetic. We think we have everything laid out and under control--and then "life happens." It hurts to admit we judged poorly in scheduling something; it hurts to cut our forward momentum and turn onto a new path; and it hurts to give up something we'd been counting on.

Such happenings are, of course, God's tools for reminding us only He can be counted on. Sometimes we want to scream at Him for letting us go in the wrong direction in the first place, particularly if it was a good direction in itself. It seems that not only would our lives be easier, but God's work would get done more efficiently, if He were a bit more specific in His guidance. But He evidently has more important ends in mind--ends we can't see from our human perspective.

So is it wrong to make plans and schedules? Of course not. What's wrong is to become addicted to them--so fixated that the God of the still small voice can't get our attention without shouting.

Every book and every website--
So it seems this hurried day--
Knows the "secret" to resolving
All life's struggles and dismay.

If you use this planning system;
If you pray this acronym;
If you think along these guidelines,
You will never stress again.

Are you sure? Just look at Scripture:
Mood swings plagued the Psalmists too,
And the prophets knew frustration,
And apostles failed like you.

Even Jesus, Who was perfect,
Had His days of stress and strain--
That He might be fully human,
And might truly know our pain.

Peace of mind is won through struggle;
Growing pains may last for years;
God is never in a hurry.
All our setbacks, all our tears,

Are His tools to make us stronger,
Shaping us to go His way.
Trust His hand and wait in patience;
Bear your burden every day.

In the end, when all is finished,
When we reach God's perfect rest,
We will see how trials and struggles
Made us His and made us blessed!