Recently a young man in our community was killed. It was a sad and tragic time for those who knew him. What made it even more tragic was the fact that there was a group of protesters who made plans to picket his funeral. If I told you the bizarre sequence of illogic that made these people think it made sense to protest a funeral, you would hang your head in shame at the idea that there are people in this world so completely incapable of logical thought.
What makes it far worse, however, is that these protesters were representatives of a church. So you would not just hang your head in shame at their illogic, you would hang your head in shame at the thought that there might be Christians so utterly incapable of compassion and decency.
Over the last week, I've had several people comment to me that they are concerned that these protesters will "bring harm to the name of Christ" I understand their concern, but I think there is far less to worry about than they realize. The people I've talked to -- both Christian and non-Christian -- realize and understand that these people have absolutely nothing to do with Christ, even though they might claim His name. They have as much to do with Christianity as my left big toenail has to do with the current government in Bangladesh.
And everyone understands that...
In fact, I visited that church's website and went to their "about" page (which should tell us all about who they are, right?). I found that their "about" page talks in three places about the causes that they protest against, and only once mentions the name of Jesus. That in itself isn't a big deal, except that, the one time they mention the name of Jesus, it is to make a point about what the Gospel isn't.
This reminded me of two verses. One is:
The church is to be built on the foundation of Jesus Christ, and He must be the center and foundation of everything we are, and everything we do. I think it is possible that at one time this church had Jesus Christ as their foundation, but certainly that is no longer the case; now their foundation is the cause and the protest which they have embraced. One has to only visit their website or listen to their interviews to realize, this is a people which has lost its foundation.
How does something like this happen? That's the other verse I was thinking of:
If Jesus is our foundation, He is also our focus. We must never take our eyes off Him, off His life, His character, His acts, His teachings, and His death and resurrection. When we take our eyes off Him, we run the risk of having our attention fixed instead on other things.
And the other things might not even be bad things. Sometimes in the church we even get caught up in good causes. But the moment a cause, a program, or an activity causes us to lose our focus on Jesus Christ, then it becomes a danger to us all.
I was thinking recently about the time I spent in the university orchestra while I was a college student. I particularly remember our orchestra conductor, Anatole, who told many stories. Here's one he told during an orchestra rehearsal.
He was once part of a quartet that was working on a piece of music by a modern composer. It was a piece of music that had "more black than white on the page," which is a way of saying that there were lots and lots and lots of very fast notes! So this quartet worked and worked and worked to get every last note perfect. Then, a couple weeks before they were supposed to perform the premiere of this quartet, the composer showed up to hear them practice.
"WHAT are you doing?" he demanded as they played his composition for him.
"What do you mean?" they asked.
"Why are you playing all those notes?"
"That's what's on the page," they said.
The composer was disgusted. "I didn't put those notes down because I wanted you to play every single one of them -- they were just to give you a general idea of what to play."
Now, I don't know about you, but I would have been pretty disgusted with the composer if I'd worked for so long to play what he had written, only to find out "he didn't really mean it."
That got me thinking, I'm awfully glad God isn't like that. God doesn't play guessing games with us...he makes it very clear what He expects of us.
In the book of Micah, the Israelites are asking God, "What do you want us to do to please you?" And God essentially says, "This is no guessing game...I've already told you!"
These are the "notes" God has written on the page, and they are the notes he wants us to play. Unfortunately I think we lose sight of what is written on the page because we think God is playing guessing games with us. We spend all our time worrying about "What school am I going to go to?" or "What job will I take?" or "What color shirt does God want me to wear this morning?"
Perhaps if we spent our time worrying about the notes which are actually written down, everything else would just fall into place. But, of course, if we spend all our time worrying about those other things, we'll lose sight of the really important stuff...
...and once we've lost sight of those things, it really doesn't matter what school we go to, what job we take, or what shirt we wear, because we're not playing the music God has written for us anyway!
"Your mother's wrinkles, your daughter's pimples, and your face is right in the middle."
That was the voice-over in an Oil of Olay advertisement I saw last night. And it got me thinking...
Oil of Olay has been around (under various names like Oil of Ulan and Oil of Olaz) since 1949. I remember seeing ads for the product when I was a kid (so very many years ago ;D). What I got thinking about is this: the women who were targeted by the Oil of Olay ads when I was a kid are the mothers of the women who are now being targeted by the ads.
And apparently it's a done deal that they've got wrinkles now...they're beyond the hope and help of the rejuvenating wonder.
And...let's take this a step further...the women who will be targeted by the ads in another twenty years are the pimply-faced daughters, whose pimples will be gone, but will be in fear of those wrinkles...who will be afraid they won't stay young forever...who will be looking at their mothers and praying, "Dear Lord, let me never have that many wrinkles..."
Seems like a kind of pointless and repetitive cycle. But it made me think of two seemingly unrelated Scripture passages:
Kind of depressing, isn't it?
Here's the other one. This is from I Peter:
There's a word in those verses that I absolutely love -- one that keeps cropping up again and again in the book of 1 Peter: imperishable.
When we look at beauty in the terms that the world sees it, it is not imperishable -- it is, like any other earthly treasure, destined to fall apart over time. No moisturizing cream, no anti-wrinkle formula, no anti-aging drugs can forever prevent it.
On the other hand, the character we develop, as followers of Jesus Christ, the "hidden person of the heart" -- that lasts forever. It is, in a word, imperishable.
But which do we spend more time worrying about? Outward beauty? Or inward character?
No wonder Solomon talked about "vanity." And he didn't mean "vanity" in the way we mean it today -- he was talking about emptiness.
And there is something painfully empty about a life spent worrying more about the outward than the inward, more about the perishable than about the imperishable...
Several years ago we had a yearly tradition of taking our church youth group on a hiking trip to Mount Katahdin. If you've never been to Katahdin, it's the tallest mountain in the state of Maine, and a wonderful place to hike. The views from the top are downright amazing.
We would hike up Pamola Peak (the second-tallest peak on Katahdin) and then cross Knife Edge to get to Baxter Peak (which is the tallest peak). Knife Edge is a trail, approximately a mile long, which runs along a ridge between Pamola and Baxter. You can probably guess what the trail looks like, just from the name of it: Knife Edge. At times you really do feel like you're walking along the edge of a knife; you stand on the ridge and you can look down to your left and see the bottom of the mountain -- then you turn and look down to your right and you also see the bottom of the mountain! It can be a bit intimidating for people who are afraid of heights.
One time when we took this hike, we had a teenager with us who was a seventh grader, and this was her first "serious" hiking experience. When we got to Pamola Peak we gave the teens the option of pressing forward, or turning back the way we came. This girl was determined to go forward.
But once she got out on the ridge, she discovered that, with the wind blowing, and her being tired as she was, she felt like she was going to get blown right off the mountain. So she hiked the entire Knife Edge on her hands and knees.
It was a long hike that day, stopping every couple minutes for her to rest, and get up her courage to press on. The rest of the group pushed on ahead while a couple of the leaders stayed with her. We would stop, sit down on the rocks to look at the views around us (which were, by the way, absolutely stunning and amazing!), and then we would point at a turn in the trail, or an outcropping of rock, and say, "Do you think you can get that far?" And the girl would get a look of grim determination, nod her head, and off we would go again.
As we hiked, I thought to myself, This is what life is like. The trail is rough, narrow, tiresome, and occasionally nerve-wracking. But we don't have to travel the entire trail all at once. Crawling along the trails of life on our hands and knees, we only need worry about what lies directly ahead of us. When the trail gets hard, we only need the grim determination to make it through one day at a time, and when the day is done, God says to us: "Take a rest, and tomorrow we'll tackle the next part of the trail!"
For those who think they have to face the entire trail all at once, take the time to read from Jesus's Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 6:25-34. And especially verse 34:
Have the faith to travel as far as God gives you to travel in a single day, and let tomorrow -- and God -- worry about tomorrow!