Thursday, March 24, 2016

Little Man, Big Problem

He was slight and slender. He couldn’t have been more than 7 or 8. He was on his knees in the middle of Wal-Mart. I never heard his voice but his lips snarled and his eyes flamed as his middle finger fiercely accosted the woman I assumed to be his mother.

The image is indelibly imprinted in my mind…

I remember striding towards him and making eye contact. There wasn’t a hint of embarrassment or shame in his eyes as I passed by—just rage.

I had three reflexive thoughts.

The first was—well never mind about that thought.  

The second thought was a question: I wonder where he learned to give someone the finger—anyone much less his mom.

Now, in all fairness it may very well be the case that he discovered this from her. (Moms have been known to model such things to their children.) Maybe it was his father or some other relative. Perhaps friends or TV or movies are to be blamed.

Obviously we’ll never know where he learned it, but of this we can be certain: He did learn it. That is, flipping the bird isn’t instinctual. It comes from environment not instinct.

Environment brings me to my third thought. This kid’s actions incriminate a larger society than just his little world. Anger, vulgarity, and entitlement describe the ever-darkening spirit threatening American culture today. How else to explain the coarse insanities of politics, arts, and religion?

In 2008 Os Guinness observed,

Beyond any doubt, the United States in the last generation has suffered a serious breakdown in public civility that is the result of an even more serious decline in the quality of American common life. . . .

The symptoms of the collapse of public life are widespread . . . the shrinking of a book-and-newspaper-reading public, the growth of gated communities and constant surveillance, the rise of political primaries and the weakening of political parties, the decline of elections into public-relations contests, the degradation of political deliberation and debate . . . the rise of political dynasties and celebrity candidates . . . the appearance of billionaire politicians . . . the exponential growth of secrecy and classified documents.1

The above words—like the little boy with the big anger—are around eight years old. What could Guinness write 8 years hence? And what kind of young man will this child be then and what sort of world will he inhabit?

 1 Os Guiness, The Case for Civility, p.p. 81-82

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

St. Patrick: The Man, The Legend

Once again, St. Patrick’s Day is upon us. While we commemorate the patron saint of the Emerald Isle, we should pause for a moment to thoughtfully consider: Who was this man?

Legends about Patrick abound; but truth is best served by our seeing two solid qualities in him: He was humble and he was courageous. The determination to accept suffering and success with equal indifference guided the life of God’s instrument for winning most of Ireland for Christ.

Details of his life are uncertain. Current research places his dates of birth and death a little later than earlier accounts. Patrick may have been born in Dunbarton, Scotland, Cumberland, England, or in northern Wales. He called himself both a Roman and a Briton. At 16, he and a large number of his father’s slaves and vassals were captured by Irish raiders and sold as slaves in Ireland. Forced to work as a shepherd, he suffered greatly from hunger and cold.

After six years, Patrick escaped, probably to France, and later returned to Britain at the age of 22. His captivity had meant spiritual conversion. . . . His great desire was to proclaim the Good News to the Irish.

In a dream vision it seemed “all the children of Ireland from their mothers’ wombs were stretching out their hands” to him. He understood the vision to be a call to do mission work in pagan Ireland. Despite opposition from those who felt his education had been defective, he was sent to carry out the task. He went to the west and north, where the faith had never been preached, obtained the protection of local kings and made numerous converts.

He suffered much opposition from pagan druids and was criticized in both England and Ireland for the way he conducted his mission.

In a relatively short time, the island had experienced deeply the Christian spirit, and was prepared to send out missionaries whose efforts were greatly responsible for Christianizing Europe.1

I like the opening observation that he had two “solid qualities,” viz. humility and courage. Oh, that we would have such solid qualities of heart and soul!

It is further observed,

Patrick was a humble, pious, gentle man, whose love and total devotion to and trust in God should be a shining example to each of us. So complete was his trust in God, and of the importance of his mission, he feared nothing -not even death.2

Here we discover the bedrock of his exemplary character: love for, total devotion to, and complete confidence in God. This is not the way of the world—and look at the rotting fruits of godless living and thinking!

But Jesus calls us to a different Way than that of the world. He says, Follow Me.

Will we do this? Will we trust Him and His Way in every aspect of our lives? I assure you, following Jesus and His Way is the greatest privilege we will ever have in this life or in the life to come.

I leave you with a prayerful verse penned by St. Patrick.

Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.




Saturday, March 5, 2016

Let The Wind Blow

You will keep perfectly peaceful the one whose mind remains focused on You,
because he remains in You.
~Isaiah 26:3

The other day I looked out my living room window to see our wind-chimes protesting against a blustery grey sky. Trees, sturdy and tall, bowed incessantly to the gale forces of March in Illinois. A fugitive trash can—escaping who knows where—scurried not so furtively past.

Speaking of garbage…it’s not only March, it’s an election year.

These are windy, windy times, indeed.

And as I behold the tempests of weather and politics one thing is clear: The winds of change are always blowing.

But there is something else that intruded into my thoughts that squally afternoon. While I observed the tempestuous conditions outside, I was doing so from a position of complete serenity.

You see, the winds were outside, not inside. Certainly, I was aware of the external winds. I could see their effects and hear them at times. But the environment of my home, practically speaking, was unaffected. The external forces couldn’t cool my coffee, much less disrupt my calm. I was warm and safe. Actually, I was quite peaceful.

It seems to me that this experience serves as a metaphor for life.

I am persuaded that peace—inner calm—is to be the normative state of being for the one who follows Christ. Jesus says,
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid (John 14:27).

How sad that so many who profess Christ do not possess Him as a refuge for the soul. That is, the external storms of culture sorely affect their state of mind. Rather than be filled with the Spirit’s love, joy, and peace; they reflect the moods of society—hate, anger, and conflict.

It’s as though they have no walls. Whatever happens around them happens within them. Consequently, they live in a state of perpetual agitation.

Are you at peace, dear reader? Is your life characterized by inner tranquility? Do you rest in Christ? If not, why not. What’s bugging you? Maybe you should ask your soul as David did his, “Why are you disquieted within me?” (Psalm 43:5).

The wonderfully good news is we need not live a fleshly, carnal life of inner turmoil. The fruit of peace flourishes in the one who takes Christ as His shelter and who trusts Him and His Way in every aspect of life.
Now may the Lord of peace Himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you (2Thessalonians 3:16).

Don’t confuse peace with naiveté. Jesus doesn’t ask us to bury our head in the sand and pretend that ignorance is bliss. No. He wants us to realize that in the world there is tribulation but He has overcome the world and His victory is our victory. He wants us to trust Him even in the storm. 

Now…how about a little blast from the past?