Monday, December 8, 2008


Like Tevya in The Fiddler on the Roof, my thought processes usually go “on the one hand.... on the other hand....”

Some of my past posts have juggled dynamics between: Truth and Humility, Head and Heart, God’s Will and My Will, Small and Big, Security and Trust, Time and Eternity, Struggle and Surrender....

The past few weeks have been an ongoing exercise of juxtapositions. We have decorated (mildly, as opposed to extravagantly) our home in the spirit of Advent going into Christmas. In the midst of this I received word from one of my long-time close friends that the area where he lives has erupted in violence with radical Muslims burning churches and homes as well as physically assaulting people (and with “Christians” retaliating in the same spirit of anger and ugliness). The death toll has not yet been determined. My friend has opened his home for scores of people, squeezing refugees into every available floor space for sleeping and feeding as many as a hundred per meal. Meanwhile, I still live in a society whose biggest concern seems to be the amount of discretionary consumer items that will be sold over “the holidays.” I wonder how many people give serious thought to the news headline from last week that national security experts say it is “likely” that terrorists will successfully accomplish either a nuclear or biological attack on the U.S. within five years.

We have local friends whose eighteen-year-old daughter became suddenly ill two weeks ago and died within a few days. We have other friends whose eighteen-year-old son suddenly felt ill and vomited blood; he is in the hospital as I write this. At the same time I am aware of young adults whose minds are consumed with everything from jobs and houses to video games and big-screen TVs — the “stuff” that fills their world apart from tragedy.

Some Christian friends send me reading material which is obsessed with threats implicit in the coming Obama presidency. Sometimes there is even a vitriolic spirit toward other Christians who do not explicitly denounce Obama. These materials come alongside the Christmas greetings for peace and love, most of which are quite clear about “keep[ing] “Christ” in Christmas.”

In the Old Testament, temporal good was a sign of God’s blessing on His faithful people even as curses were threatened to fall on people who lived contemptuously of God’s ways. Yet the ancient OT book of Job shows it is not that simple. In the New Testament Jesus said Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions (Lu 12:15)and Christians are warned that all who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2Tim 3:12).

I know we can’t fully avoid living as Americans in our consumer culture, but Christians can model compassionate awareness by not turning a blind eye to all the suffering around us and in the world beyond our own. Just because our society offers a multitude of distractions does not mean we must embrace them in a way that smothers us. Another response to so many complex issues is the principal of being expressly thankful for our many pleasantries, and staying surrendered and humble before our Lord in the face of what we see as both good and bad.

Christian Faith affirms that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose (Rom 8:28). Yet we need to remember that the “pleasant” is not always “good,” and the “good” is not always “pleasant.” Good finds its definition in God, and God says my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways (Isa 55:8).

How, then, are we to understand the complexity of things that whirl around and through our lives in a given day? On the one hand.... on the other hand.... But encompassing both hands is our God and our hearts must be fixed on Him.

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