Bearing Burdens 

A couple of months ago in our staff meeting we sang one of my favorite hymns, How Great Thou Art.  The verse that always has meant the most to me is this:

And when I think,  that God His Son not sparing

Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in:

That on the Cross, my burden gladly bearing,

He bled and died to take away my sin

Then sings my soul…my Saviour God to thee:

How great thou art! How great thou art!

The line that hit me in a way it never had before this time was this:  “That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing…..”  At Samaritan we use Galatians 6:2 in almost all of our materials:  “bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.”  When we take on one another’s problems, help one another with sins (Gal. 6:1), and bear the hard loads with one another we’re displaying what Jesus did on the cross.  One of the ways I’ve explained this to folks new to the idea (borrowed from Seth) is that we move pianos.

You’ve moved a piano (or some other heavy piece of furniture) with a friend, right?  Everybody gathers around and finds a place to grab on and then lift, shuffle a few steps, and set it down.  Then repeat that until you’ve gotten the piano out of the house, onto the moving truck, and then back into the new home.  Bearing burdens for one another means taking on things too big for one person to handle and doing them together.  And Jesus displayed this (among other things) in His bearing your burdens and mine on the Cross.

You and I owed a debt we couldn’t pay, and so He took it on Himself.  He bore that debt, paid that penalty for you and for me.  He didn’t have to.  He did it out of love.  And when you help a brother in need or do good to another man or woman (v. 10) you display the Gospel.  You display what Jesus did when he bore your burden.

Live like that.  Don’t grow weary in doing good and show forth what He’s done by treating others with the same love and grace has He’s shown you.  Bear one another’s burdens and so proclaim the Gospel with your life and works.

He Sets the Boundaries

A few weeks ago a friend posted something on Facebook about people talking about natural remedies for cancer.  The friend’s post was (as a PSA) encouraging people who like alternative care to make sure they’re not implying “If _______ had tried _______ they’d still be alive today.”  And the reason my friend was concerned was that they’d lost a family member not terribly long ago to cancer.

Full disclosure:  My older sister died of cancer a couple of years ago and was not yet 50.  It was almost 10 years, on and off, that she was battling various forms of cancer before she finally went home to be with the Lord.  She went through a rough time, especially at the end, but God used her death and her life in some amazing ways.  And now I have to wait a long time to see her again.  Today’s her birthday, and she would have been 51 if she was still around.

The first thing I want to say is that if you’ve ever said something like what’s in the quote above you should be ashamed of yourself.  And if anyone ever says that to you about a loved one you’ve lost you have my permission to slap him.  Unless it’s me.  Ok…even if it’s me.  It’s just rude and unkind and really has no purpose.

Second point:  God determines when people die.  So the statement above, in addition to being stupidly rude and mean is theologically incorrect.  Here’s Paul speaking in Athens:

And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us

Source: Acts 17:26-27 ESV

God determined the allotted periods of each of our lives, before the world began.  Where we would live.  When you were born.  How long each of us will be here…every breath is counted.  When someone dies there is never an “if only ______” left.  Those of us who believe must trust in God’s goodness and grace in that.  He is sovereign over life and death.

The third thing I want to mention is that you need to be charitable with one another.  I know it’s hard, but if someone says “I think that chemotherapy is harmful and I wouldn’t do that to myself” it is not the same as the statement above.  Don’t assume that your friend is making a conjecture about your loved one’s death.  Sometimes people don’t know.  Sometimes people aren’t as careful with the words they use as they ought.  But all the time we need to believe the best (“love believes all things”) about other Christians and assume they don’t mean harm unless it’s spelled out clearly.

Sure, sometimes it’ll bother you and you’ll have to ask.  And that’s how people learn to be more careful in their speech.  But try to find the best possible way to take something when it’s said.

I am a big fan of alternative care in many cases.  But I don’t give unsolicited advice about health care, finances, or child-raising because I’m also a firm believer in liberty.  We’ve made a lot of mistakes in our lives, my family and me, and maybe someone else can learn from some of them.  But if you don’t ask my opinion about a specific you won’t get it.

But that’s not the same as saying here that I’d personally never get chemotherapy.  That I believe that the health care industry perpetuates bad treatments that make money sometimes and has little interest in finding cures.  That drug companies manipulate the governmental systems to make more money (they’re not alone in that, by the way).

I have strong opinions and so do you.  And one day you’ll die and so will I.  And the fact that I can’t stop that doesn’t mean I don’t take my asthma meds and it doesn’t mean I wouldn’t perform CPR on you if you had a heart attack in front of me.  It does mean that once death occurs we need to trust God’s timing in it, and to remember that everyone, all of us, will die. There is no health care service, conventional or alternative, that will stay off death.  Only when Christ returns will death die.

Heaven Belongs to Me 

3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Source: Matthew 5 ESV

The word “blessed” here is also able to be translated, “happy.”  Being “poor in spirit” is not the opposite of happy, then, but something that leads to happiness.

You and I are supposed to be poor in spirit.

There’s nothing in you or me that makes us worthwhile in ourselves.  There’s no richness in your spirit apart from Christ, and recognizing that you are poor in spirit is a path to true happiness.  Realizing that you are spiritually poor means that you know Jesus has brought you to Himself and He says here that the kingdom of heaven belongs to you.

I realize all to infrequently that I’m poor in spirit, and because of that I avoid happiness.  I break my optimism and view reality through the wrong glasses.  I think I’m something and so prove that I’m not.  Does that happen to you too?  Do you ascribe to yourself spiritual riches that begin in yourself rather than in Christ?

It’s a simple thing to have it be otherwise:  repent.  Repent and believe what Jesus says about you.  Repent and believe the Gospel:  that you are poor in Spirit, that Jesus saves you by His death and payment for your sins, and that heaven belongs to you both now and forever.

Be happy.  Be poor in spirit.

The Death of Death

A couple of times I’ve had an opportunity to preach or teach from Psalm 23.  The verse I tend to spend the most time on is “He prepares a table for me in the presence of my enemies.”  I then compare that to the verse in 1 Corinthians 15, “the last enemy to be destroyed is death.”

Death is our enemy.  And one day death itself will die.

I don’t know about you, but that sends chills up my spine.  I remember vividly a sermon in the PCUSA church I grew up in when the pastor harped on death coming.  I’m not sure he believed in heaven or hell or anything that I do today, but in that day I gained a fear of death.  I remember in my early teens being so afraid that I would die in my sleep.

And now…death looks welcome to me.  It has no sting (1Cor 15:55).  Death cannot hurt me.  And every week God invites me to His Table where He feeds me in the presence of my enemies, including death.  The seven children we lost, my sister, my grandparents:  all gone.  And death, while powerful for now, is going to itself die.

I can’t wait.

A Second Chance

Several years ago, not long after it came out, I saw the Steve Taylor produced movie The Second Chance. It was right after my family and I had moved back into the city, into a neighborhood that many of my friends considered “not safe.”

It was not terribly long after seeing it that I began to get passionate about the Church ministering to the poor…and from there the ideas began to form that eventually became what is now the Morning Center.

On the plane on my way to Memphis last night I watched The Second Chance again. I wanted to remember, while I am here, trying to focus on the Morning Center rather than school for a bit, what our mission is. Why we do what we do and serve who we serve.

“Comfort is sinking sand. Safety is sinking sand.”

On Christ the solid rock I stand….all other ground is sinking sand.

Here’s a trailer for the movie…you should watch it.

and to whet your appetite, one of my favorite scenes:

Disrupting the Cycle of Generational Poverty

Part of my biggest concern with how we handle poverty is that I am convinced that most of our current efforts and methodologies actually perpetuate multi-generational poverty rather than providing potential escape from the cycles.  Here’s a look at disruptive innovation applied to poverty cycles:

Disrupting the cycle of entrenched poverty and poor health can tip the world on its axis. And innovation has the ability to drive massive improvements in the health and well-being of children, communities, and countries.Put together, “disruptive innovation,” a term Clayton M. Christensen brought forth in his book The Innovator’s Dilemma, is more than a winner-takes-all game where one technology replaces another or where a business that does the job faster and cheaper replaces an existing, lucrative one. To me, it’s about game-changing, curve-bending opportunities to drive impact—not necessarily through technologies like Amazon’s Fire Phone, which is now caught up in this debate, but through vision, adaptation, and a die-hard commitment to collaboration.

via Disruptive Innovation: Where It Matters Most | Stanford Social Innovation Review.

It’s worth a read.  I hope to write more on the economics of poverty later, but for now this article, plus what the Dream Center is doing to break the cycle here in Peoria is all I have time to give you:

Young people are in big need. Growing up, they are surrounded by sin, drug use, and garbage on TV, in movies and on the Internet. Early in life they know much more than any young person should. As a result, we have a broken society, and thousands of broken children living with rage, every sort of perversion, and a devastating loss of hope. We strive to teach our young people to have a vision. Young people are enticed by the glamour and promises of this world. We believe we need to instill in them to be dreamers at a young age, but in a God-given way.

via History Makers | What We Do | Dream Center Peoria.

Feel free to leave thoughts in the comments…this is something I will definitely get back to writing more on when I’m done with school.

Good Friday and the Cross

My friend Brian posted a fantastic meditation for today (Good Friday) on his blog.  Well worth your time as you consider what this day is about.  Here’s a snippet and a link:

The later Nicene Creed adds a few words to the pattern of the Apostles’ Creed that I think are very important.  It says that Jesus “for us and for our salvation came down from heaven.”  This is absolutely crucial. The “crux” of the matter for us is the answer to the question: What is Jesus doing hanging there on that cross?

via Good Friday and the Cross — Dr. Brian Mattson.