Friday, August 31, 2007

Is the Second Coming at Hand?

The increasing number of natural disasters of late is disturbing. A severe drought in our area has ruined crops and several people have lost their lives because of the intense heat wave that has lasted for weeks. Add to that the hurricanes striking the Caribbean and Mexico, wildfires burning in Idaho and Greece, and severe earthquakes in both Peru and Japan. Disastrous flooding in the Midwest became personal for me. I learned that Dora Horse, who was with a Native American group that visited our church at Rehoboth just last year, was swept away in the floodwaters, drowning along with her daughter and granddaughter. And if natural disasters are not enough, then think a minute about the recent headlines about people losing homes and jobs in the lending crisis, pet food and children’s toys found tainted with poisonous chemicals, a massive bridge collapse into the Mississippi river, miners trapped in a cave-in—need I go on?

I met someone recently who remarked, “There’s so much bad stuff going on in the world right now. I’m pretty sure that Jesus will be coming back very soon.” I pursed my lips and said, “Hmmm” mostly because I don’t like to engage in theological debate with people I’ve just met! My acquaintance would likely have been disturbed to learn that I never worry much about Jesus’ return, nor do I sit down regularly with my Bible attempting to decipher ancient prophecies about when it might occur. It’s not that I don’t believe Jesus will return, I do--and have affirmed often in church that "Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again." What I don't believe is that Jesus wants us to worry; instead Jesus instructed us to be prepared, to be ready, to be watchful. Just like many people prepare for disasters by having a battery powered radio or storing bottled water, we can best prepare for the return of Christ by sharing his love with others not just with words but also through our actions (I John 3:18).

In the gospel of Matthew, the last statement of Jesus to his disciples is this:
“And be sure of this, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (28:20 NLT).
We should pray for, work on, and give towards easing the suffering of those caught up in the troubles of the world. Our strength does not come from looking at the state of our world with apathy hoping that Christ will return soon to make it all better. Our strength comes from knowing that Christ is with us always, ‘even to the end of the age’, no matter how bad the world seems to be getting.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Wondrous Cross

The red mug, the painting of which was described in a recent posting, finally arrived. I was surprised when I looked it over to see that the cross, which was on the side I frantically tried to cover over, was still visible! The photo above, which I had to change to black and white to increase the contrast, shows the outline of the cross.

I suppose it reminds us all that no matter how you try to hide it, the cross is going to show through. Victory in Jesus indeed!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Myth Busters: Living Together Before Marriage

Recently I attended a wedding. Typically I find myself on center stage at weddings as the officiant, leading a couple through the marriage vows. However on this particular occasion I had the rare experience of sitting on the back pew observing the ceremony. What really stuck with me was the magnificent simplicity of the marriage vows. Here's what this particular couple said to each other:

In the name of God, I, (name), take you, (name), to be my wife/husband,
to have and to hold from this day forward,
for better or worse, for richer or poorer,
in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish,
until we are parted by death.
This is my solemn vow.

These vows are nearly identical to the ones Kim and I recited to each other nearly 15 years ago and it was somewhat unsettling to hear this couple recite them. Isn't it intriguing how the vows reflect the truth that marriage will likely include times of hardship and sacrifice? Marriage is still popular despite the increasing number of couples that choose to live together. Most of these couples will at some point recite some similar vows and make their relationship a permanent one.

Wondering about the merits of marriage vs. living together made me curious as to what research might show about the effects of living together prior to marriage. Predictably, a Google search gave me numerous hits but one site in particular stuck out. Dr. Willard Harley, a psychologist who has written much about relationships and marriage, quotes many different studies on his web site found here.

The many studies that have been done show that the risk of divorce increases by 80%, more or less, among those who live together prior to marriage. I'm sure this confounds those who would like us to believe that there are no ill effects from living together. Fortunately, one study I read said that couples living together who attend premarital counseling prior to marriage reduce the risk of divorce, down to a nearly even level with those who do not live together before marriage.

One of the myths of our culture is that living together prior to marriage is OK. The research proves otherwise. Perhaps it's time to talk about this more in the church.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Red Mugs, Purple Feet, and the Potter's Gentle Hand

Yet, O LORD, you are our Father.
We are the clay, you are the potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
Isaiah 64:8 NIV

Last Friday afternoon was spent with my daughter Hannah at a place called Brown Dog Pottery. Hannah wanted to go because her good friend from church works there and will soon leave for college. I wanted to go because I needed a break from a hectic work week and wanted to spend time with my soon to be in high school daughter.

The store has a wide selection of paintable ceramic pottery, ranging from small tiles and figurines to plates and mugs to a "who would buy that?" two foot tall rooster. Hannah selected a jewelry box to paint, while I chose a good sized coffee mug. We sat across from each other at a long table after picking out colors and brushes.

Not having painted anything in a long, long time, I didn't anticipate how much time it was going to take. While my child quickly detailed her creation, I simply stared at mine. Trying to decide what design would most impress my friends and make my enemies cringe. Or something like that.

Hannah is extremely artistic, using colors, lines, and shapes to create one fantastic looking piece of art.

I painted my mug red.

As the red paint dried to a funny looking pink, I decided my creation needed a white "B" on it's side. This came to me only after spending an inordinate amount of time determining that the words "Red Sox" would be much too difficult to paint successfully around the side of the cup.
It seemed like eons passed as I traced a "B" on the cup with a pencil and then filled the traced "B" with white paint. Then I had to touch the edges up with red, then white, then red, then white--well, you get the idea. I didn't find it particularly helpful to be surrounded by all sorts of brightly colored, immaculately designed examples of painting by those who had gone before me. My frustration at my level of imperfection began to show through despite the girls continual reassurances that I had painted a really, really attractive "B".

Then an idea popped into my head. The other side of the mug could be different! Multicolored fish maybe, or a Bible verse, or perhaps a cross. Eventually I put a cross and a verse on the reverse side of the mug.

Sigh. It looked terrible. So I covered it up with even more bright red paint. Not satisfied with plain red, I perused the assortment of shape stamps. Finally choosing one, I put footprints, purple footprints, over the red paint. Watching the feet dry I searched for the perfect word to describe my creation, and it finally came to me.

Ridiculous. My mug looked absolutely ridiculous.

Sensing my discomfort as I disdainfully eyed my creation, Hannah's friend said, "Look, all you have to do is wipe the paint off. Cover it with a little more red, and you'll be done." Sure enough, a little water on a paper towel, some violent wiping motions, a little more red paint, and my mug with the decent looking "B" was ready for the kiln.

As I wiped the purple feet off my mug, I thought about Isaiah 64:8. About no matter how imperfect, how messed up, how sinful we can get, still all of us are all the work of God's hands and loved beyond anything we could imagine. How many times in my life have I made foolish mistakes, much more foolish than simply messing up my mug at the pottery place? And God, like a potter, always uses his tender hands to wipe our foolish mistakes away, so we can all look much less--well, ridiculous--and much more like him.

What a God this is, who is willing to work with us, to mold us and shape us into something valuable, beautiful, and priceless. A God who patiently wipes off our 'purple feet' mistakes, gently covering over them with the bright red blood of Jesus. A God who delights in filling our too human 'jars of clay' with the great treasure of his Spirit (II Cor. 4:7).

I'll not soon forget this experience at Brown Dog Pottery. A wonderful time spent with my 'little girl' who is all too quickly becoming a delightful young woman. And a powerful reminder of the awesome love of a God who shapes us with tender hands like a potter.