Monday, July 30, 2012

Spiritual Reflection on THE DARK KNIGHT RISES

Spoiler Alert! If you have not seen this movie, do not read this article. I might ruin it for you.

            Imagine a story about someone who left a world of unimaginably great riches to go and dwell with a very fallen people-marred by the effects of sin-in a very fallen world. He fights the greatest evil, and apparantly is overwhelmed by it. He descends into a hellish abyss, and is seemingly dead forever.
            Remarkably, after a period of time, he overcomes the evil of that hellhole and rises again. He overcomes the Evil One and all of the evil minions and rescues a very fallen people from the full effect of all that evil. Indeed, he gives them hope for a new life.
            I am of course talking about Jesus and the Gospel story. Although that description, I guess, captures the essential plot of The Dark Knight Rises as well.
            Over and over in great movies and books, I see artists take biblical stories and rework them in a thinly disguised way. I wonder what would happen if God ever decided to sue for plagiarism.
            Maybe God feels complimented because people keep using his material.
            For whatever it is worth, I really liked the movie.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Out of Poverty

            God has always been about helping the poor. This has been at the heart of God’s message from the Old Testament all the way to Jesus. Others in the New Testament have emphasized this message from the apostle Paul to Jesus’ brother, James. Have you ever wondered why that is?
            Clearly, there are many reasons, perhaps led by one articulated in the book of James—people have basic survival needs, and poverty is an ever-present threat.
            I want to take a moment though to explore another.* We have poverty because of sin. Not necessarily the sin of one who lives in poverty, but poverty is the result of the consequences of this fallen world. Sin set into motion a lot of bad things, including poverty.
            Here is an obvious example; a child who is poor is not poor because of his own sin. But sin has created a world that is broken. That child receives the brunt of the fall of humanity.
            Can you think of an image more startling than one of a child in poverty? Instinctively, a voice within screams out, “This is wrong!”
            Viewing a child who is hungry and ill-clothed makes you hurt inside. You know it should not be this way.
            These images remind us that the world is broken. There are external symptoms that something is wrong in the world on an internal level… a spiritual level.
            Biblical writers took note of this. To describe the sinful condition of his people, Isaiah said, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away” (Is. 64:6.)
            On the other hand, new clothes—emblematic of good health and one’s needs being met—are often used as symbols by biblical writers for a spiritually healthy state with God:

Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature (Romans 13:14.)

For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality (1 Corinthians 15:53.)

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience (Colossians 3:12.)

Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5.)

[All citations NIV 1984, Italics mine.]

            When we seek to minister to the poor in the name of Jesus, we are addressing, on a physical level, a symbol that reminds us there is spiritual brokenness in the world. When, through our ministry, we are blessed to help restore someone to the state that God intended, we exemplify in a physical way how things should be spiritually: God should rule a person’s life and in doing so, remove the presence of sin, while re-clothing that individual in the clothes of Jesus.  
            Addressing poverty is addressing relationships—people’s relationships with God… and with each other. That is one of many reasons ministering to the poor has always been near to the heart of God.

*If I do not explain myself well, or if you disagree, please let me know either in the “Comments” section or by private message. I assure you, I am thinking out loud here; maybe I should say, “I am growing ‘out loud’ here!

Monday, July 16, 2012


            Edwin Friedman was a family therapist and Jewish rabbi, who passionately argued that people too often allow themselves to become trapped by the negative emotional climate of those around them.
            To stretch the minds of his readers, Friedman challenged them to:

Imagine being a Jew and standing in line to a crematorium at Auschwitz. Completely knowledgeable of the evil perpetrated by Germany, a person beside you says, “You may not believe this, but before this decade is over, there is going to be a nation called Israel.”

            Unthinkable! Yet it was to be.
            I would add to Friedman’s thought, imagine in early 1945, if someone had said to an American fighting in the brutal Pacific battles, “You’re not going to believe this, but within the next ten years, Japan is going to become one of our closest allies.”
            Incredible! Yet it was to be.
            Think into the future. What can you imagine? Can you imagine God doing great things for His Kingdom? Or, do temporary obstacles, failures, and defeats bind you?

Source–A FAILURE OF NERVE by Edwin Friedman

Monday, July 9, 2012

Climb Every Mountain: My Week On Wilderness Expedition

            Last week, I had the privilege of traveling on a Wilderness Expedition with members of our high school youth group. Our goal was to climb Mount Silverheels near Denver, Colorado.
            Colorado has been dry this summer, and many know that there have been a number of fires that have taken place throughout the state. Although we saw the smog from the smoke, we were blessed and did not personally encounter any fires on our expedition.
            Three guides led us, two young men and one young woman. The first two days, I was convinced that they considered their mission to kill us. We arrived on Saturday, were issued our gear, packed our backpacks, and practiced setting up our tents, which we slept in on Saturday night.
            On Sunday, the guides trained us to get ready for climbing the mountain. First, they took us rappelling, an exercise in which you, by faith, throw yourself over the side of a mountain and hope that the cables, which the guides had attached to you, keep you from falling over 100 feet to your death.
            After that, we loaded up our backpacks and marched up another mountain to establish what they called “low camp.” I found myself sweating profusely. Part of the reason was that I was carrying a fully loaded backpack that felt like it weighed 300 pounds. Another reason was that I was wearing a long sleeved Under Armor shirt, which I thought had been designed to help you feel cool in the summer. 
            I was mistaken; it was designed for the cold of winter.
            Seeing as how the temperature was still in the 90s at that low level of elevation, I might as well had been hiking in a wool jacket.
            The next day, Monday, we hiked to “high camp.” If you want to simulate this, find yourself an exercise vest that weighs about 80 pounds and walk up the stairs of a building about the height of the Empire State Building.
            All of this exercise, mind you, was designed to break us down. Boy, did they succeed. Upon arrival at “high camp”, I wanted to kiss the ground like Pope John Paul II used to do. Instead, I luxuriated in the intense pain I felt in my back and shoulders.
            This was definitely a good news/bad news scenario. The good news was that I felt like I was seventeen again; the bad news was that I felt like I was seventeen again… after my first day of two-a-days in August for the start Fall football.
            For years, I have told Timothy and Annie that I would accompany them on one Wilderness Expedition when they were in high school. Last Monday night, I began rehearsing my speech explaining to them why I was too old to ever climb another mountain.
            One thing about all of my muscular exhaustion: it did lend itself to a good night sleep.             Amazingly enough I awoke Tuesday morning feeling physically much better than deserved. All of us were sent out by our guides into the woods of our “high camp” mountain in order to enjoy three hours of solitude with God.
            All we took with us were our Bibles, a pencil, and a Journal. This was the best time of the week for me. Our guides had prepared us well to spend time with God. Indeed, nothing grooms you for meeting with God like having somebody try to kill you.
            Those three hours flew by quickly. By the time our solo time was over, I felt like I had experienced a spiritual “reboot.”
            We spent the rest of the day resting and getting ready for our trip to the summit.
            On Wednesday we left around 5:30 AM local time to begin our trek to the summit of Mount Silverheels. This time, we only carried a daypack instead of a backpack—a tremendous moral victory for me. Consequently, I felt like I’d actually prepared well physically for this endeavor. We reached the summit near noon, after traveling over several smaller peaks. The terrain for the last half mile to a mile consisted only of rocks that were typically around ten inches by five inches and weighed a few pounds. Walking on those rocks was challenging, especially because they afforded many opportunities for twisted ankles. Fortunately, we escaped that trial.
            Standing on the summit of this mountain that was over 13,000 feet tall was truly satisfying. What made it more so was making the trip with my middle daughter, Abby. Abby was in fantastic shape, and was always at the front of the line. I felt proud to hear one of the guides, and one of the other trekkers, say that Abby really encouraged them with her singing and joyful attitude.
            Most of us considered the trip down from the summit to be the more difficult one. With the pressure of gravity, trying to walk carefully and slowly down such a steep incline was difficult; it was as if someone were standing behind us constantly pushing us.
            No story is a good one without adversity. In our case, it was the thunderstorm, which struck shortly after we started down from the summit. Extremely high winds blew rain sideways as we tried to stay dry while walking as quickly as possible… before lightning struck us. All of us had safely arrived to “high camp” by 3 PM. Overall, our hike lasted a little over nine hours albeit time seemed to pass by much more quickly.
            The rest of the week was anti-climactic. On Thursday, we hiked down the mountain from our “high camp” and returned to the base of wilderness expedition in Salida for a well-deserved shower and closing banquet. Friday, we traveled 17 hours by van to return home about midnight Saturday.
            I read where it is estimated that only 1% of the world has ever climbed to the summit of a mountain. I feel a special kinship with the group I accompanied on this experience–particularly with my daughter, Abby.
            There was a moment that was very special to me on Wednesday when we were on the summit of Mount Silverheels. I was talking to some of the other hikers when I looked up and saw Abby off in the distance at the edge of the summit, by herself, looking intently at the vista before her, which stretched for 50 or 60 miles. She seemed especially beautiful in that moment
            When she headed back toward our group, I strode over to meet her. I invited her to go back over with me to the spot where she had stood, and I put my arm around her. I rehearsed with her our journey up until that point. I then prayed with her as we thanked God for the blessings of that expedition.
            Wednesday, I repented of my Monday night thoughts of retiring from trek forever. I think I still have one more trip in me. I’m marking the first week of July 2017, on my calendar. My appointment will be with Timothy and Annie; we are going to climb a mountain.