One of the most hopeful and encouraging passages from the Bible--at least it should be--is the oft quoted John 3:16:
"For in this manner God loved the world, that he gave [His] one-and-only-unique son, so that everyone who believes in Him would not perish but would have eternal life."
God has heard our cries of despair, frustration, loss, grief, anger, confusion, and hopelessness. He has provided the way back to dwelling with Him and Him with us, where our despair is turned to joy, our frustration to contentment, our loss to unending provision, our grief to solace, our anger to joy, our confusion to understanding, and our hopelessness to security. And the way back is believing in God's Son, Jesus the Christ, whom He sent.
God is ready to deliver us from everything we lament (above) and the root cause of all our lamentations, which is death. All we must do is accept the gift by believing in His Son. But what does this mean, exactly?
Here, the Greek language, which was used to originally record the above verse, helps us to answer this question. The Greek preposition translated, in (highlighted in above translation) is actually the Greek preposition,εις. It is perfectly correct to translate this as, "in." But εις differs from the Greek preposition,εν, which means in, on, or among, in that εν describes a static position, whereas εις means a movement from a position outside of something to a position inside the something; thus, εις is better translated, "into." So we have, "...who believes into Him would not perish...."
Therefore, the believing--faith--trust--God calls us to is the same He has always required of us: a total surrender of ourselves into Him. And this is not meant in the Eastern religion sense of becoming absorbed into the One by completely obliterating one's Self. Quite the contrary,believing into God's Son means to surrender ourselves totally into Him through an unswerving trust He will bring us to being the very Self He created for us to be, as we respond and act in complete conformity with His will. True believing is dynamic, not static. This is what St. Paul meant when he wrote,
"...with fear and and trembling, work out fully the salvation of yourselves. For God is the one who effectively works within you both to desire and to work efficiently for the sake of [His] good pleasure."
Faith--believing--trust is not simply assenting to the fact Jesus is whom He claimed to be, as the English preposition, "in," can so easily imply. Instead, we are to believe dynamically by fully investing all that we are, through both word and deed, into our Creator--who was, and is, and is to come--through His Son, Jesus the Christ.
To dwell together with God is to live life to the fullest forever in genuine rest. God invites us to His rest because of the faithfulness of His Son, Jesus the Christ. All we must do is accept the invitation by believing into Him.
Wednesday, December 12, 2012
One of the most hopeful and encouraging passages from the Bible--at least it should be--is the oft quoted John 3:16:
Posted by Bruce Kokko at 4:41 PM
Tuesday, December 4, 2012
A colleague of mine was chatting with me the other day about how he was preparing himself for the annual Christmas party at his neighbor's home. He wasn't looking forward to it, as I will soon explain. Personally, I would have thought such affairs had long since died out with service station attendants, horse-drawn sleigh rides, barn dances, bomb shelters, and the I Love Lucy Show. So, I thought to myself, how nice.
It was quite apparent my friend didn't share my sentiment. He was dreading the event because--according to him--all his neighbors were ________s (the reader should fill in the political party of his/her choice here because I'm not interested in supporting or deprecating either party, either by implication or otherwise). He went on to say this made them all idiots, and their candidate less than the lowest form of life. "I hate the guy," he said. Then he went on to say something I later wished I had had the wherewithal to challenge--hopefully kindly--on the spot. Unfortunately, I don't do well in confrontational situations, even relatively benign ones, such as the one I'm relating, here. Generally, I'm the type of person who must go to the quiet of his library to ponder an idea, opinion, comment, and what else that had been launched my way. Then, after deliberation--sometimes careful, sometimes not so much--I might seek the person out to comment. Of course, often times I will never see the person again, or the person had been speaking via the TV or some other unapproachable medium; so, I am left with an unresolved debate festering in my craw, like water slowly bubbling up through a clogged drain.
I don't know if I will speak with my colleague about his comment; I find it difficult conversing with him because he tends to be sarcastic and evasive. However, I know you, dear reader, are open to discussing things with me, even though we might end up disagreeing with each other.
After unleashing his cache of vitriol at his hapless neighbors and their political candidate, my colleague said--I guess as a way of validating his opinion--"You see, I take the matter of right and wrong quite seriously."
In the words of Spock, "Fascinating, Captain."
What I am to understand from his addendum is party X, its candidate, and its supporters stand for what is wrong, and the opposing party Y, which my colleague supports along with its candidate and followers, stands for what is right.
I would like to say two things about this. First, I've heard people from the opposing party spew the same degree of hate for my friend's party, and with equal conviction. Secondly, all the people who play this hate card--regardless of their allegiances--are deluded if they speak of hating someone and being right while also keeping a straight face.
Our Lord, Master, King Jesus the Christ made it very clear one cannot hate another and be in the right. He taught us,
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor’ and ‘hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you,so that you may be like your Father in heaven, since he causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Even the tax collectors do the same, don’t they? And if you only greet your brothers, what more do you do? Even the Gentiles do the same, don’t they? So then, be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." [NET]
Top line: We are to love everyone because God loves everyone. If God, who is the only one with the the authority and wisdom, and therefore the right to hate anyone, doesn't hate anyone, then it is the height of arrogance for any of us to believe it is right to hate others--regardless of whom the others might be.
The buck needs to stop with each of us on this issue of hating; we can't look to others to solve the problem. If we pass the buck we will see the world continue to grew more bigoted, more divided, and more disordered. And the violence that naturally accompanies such chaos will grow ever more virulent and commonplace.
Posted by Bruce Kokko at 3:22 PM
Tuesday, November 27, 2012
In his book The Four Loves, C.S.Lewis talks about the various ways affection can turn bad. I expanded on his ideas about love in my book, A Final Word on Love. But here, I'm interested in Lewis' discussion of how some families react when a member excels beyond the confines of what has been the established boundaries of the family. I'm not talking about a black sheep in the negative sense, but one who goes beyond his kin in experience, ideas, education, or interests. The reaction--better said, the reactionary response--flows from a jealousy that is justified in the minds of the jealous by a belief the so-called errant member has somehow betrayed the family. The disgruntled members see the black sheep's outside interests as symptomatic of an unrequited love. In the minds of those who remained unchanged within the family circle, there is only one history, and that history must establish the future, so the history for each new generation remains identical to the last. If dad was a plumber, all his sons must be plumbers. If grandma gave red socks to the grandchildren at Christmas time, then the new grandmother must do the same for the new grandchildren, and so on.
Affection kept in its proper place is a good thing. But the affection that galvanized this family had turned into a demon imprisoning the family in a narrow confinement of a stagnant, fearful existence. When the black sheep returned, excited to share his discoveries, he met with a cold reception. With the fires of enthusiasm quickly quenched by the tepid suspicious looks from his loved ones, the black sheep would soon find himself being conveyed to a freezer well stocked with passive aggression, snide remarks, criticisms of anything he experienced, and comparisons to prove how much better it has always been within the family. All of which done in an attempt to shame the confused black sheep into capitulating and returning to the fold--even to dumb down to the level of denying he ever had a thought not thought by the rest. Some people it seems are threatened by relatives--especially children--who advance themselves. And they retaliate by accusing the hapless members of failing to love them. They might not explicitly say so, but they don't have to.
This pathology is all rather foreign to me because my family of origin always wanted to learn something new. My octogenarian father once asked if he could borrow my book on nanoparticles because he didn't know anything about them. So when I witness families terrified of their child's expanding universe--and yes, I do think it is a fear--I'm dumbfounded and saddened.
I have always wanted my children to be better than me, and to pursue their own dreams. I expressed this desire to some friends once over dinner, and they vilified me for it. They accused me of burdening my children with an impossible expectation. They weren't complimenting me, either. No, they were quite put off by my idea. Apparently, they saw no way for anyone to exceed beyond the PhD I had obtained. All I can say is, "I didn't expect a sort of Spanish Inquisition." After all, how far a person progresses academically is really only a small part of what defines him or her. Besides, there are all sorts of equally valuable skills and knowledge to be earned outside the Ivy walls. In any event, my friends were quite mistaken. My son--who has a master's degree--at thirty years is far more knowledgeable, experienced, and talented than I was at his age with my doctorate. He may not as yet Piled it higher and Deeper, but he has moved light-years beyond me, for which I am very proud. And he's gotten there through his own hard work.
What got me to thinking about all this is John the Baptist. God had called John to prepare the way for the Messiah, Jesus the Christ. John untiringly did his assigned task, bringing little attention to himself. Indeed, when given the third degree to find out whom he claimed to be, John said he was nothing more than a mere voice in the wilderness. People joined John as his disciples, but many would eventually abandon him to follow Jesus. And John encouraged it because all that mattered to John was exalting Jesus. In all that John did he communicated, "He must increase and I must decrease."
John loved with God's Love. Such love is never threatened, never jealous, never competitive, never haughty, never condescending, never shaming, never self-serving, but always striving to see the next person's life shine like a star in the firmament. And what's really fascinating about this love is, when it's allowed to flow, everyone comes away shining brightly in the sky.
What a better world it would be if everyone lived by the creed, "He must increase and I must decrease."
Posted by Bruce Kokko at 6:50 PM
Tuesday, November 20, 2012
It seems more and more of my friends and acquaintances are feeling bummed these days. Everyone seems to be hunkering down in self-protection against some unseen, ill-defined, menace. I am hearing a lot of mumbling about a coming zombie apocalypse in the same breath of fiscal cliffs, lost freedoms, and declining incentives. A friend recently told me to watch and see if there won't be a glut of people leaving their jobs because it's more lucrative to stay room and sponge off the government.
I found myself praying about all of this fear and pending doom, lamenting about how the world is getting worse. But I' m not so sure about that. A more accurate statement is probably America is catching up with the rest of the world. Until recently, we've had it pretty darn good in this country--at least in my life time. We've remained largely insulated from the horrors and insecurities common in other parts of the world. What I have been sensing is not so much the world getting worse, but a slow collapse of the American firewall between me and the rest of the world. I'm feeling the heat, man.
Well, first of all, don't feel bad about feeling bad. We are human beings, not Vulcans (thank the Lord for that). Secondly, know your limitations, which for all of us are dangerously close to being limitless. Thirdly, know that we are all playing in the same sandbox. And regardless of whether we might own a truck or a tractor, a bucket and shovel, or nothing, we all deep down want only one thing: to be told by the person digging in the sand next to us that they are glad we are there with them.
Yes, some who perhaps possess more toys than you, or even own a part of the sandbox, might appear oblivious to such a basic need, but trust me, they aren't. I'm telling you, everyone wants to be able to play in the sandbox and be recognized and appreciated for it--everyone.
The sandbox has perhaps grown a bit more crowded; there's less sand to go around, and the toys have become smaller, more expensive, and more scarce. It seems like it's no fun to play anymore. Well, such a perspective is bound to depress anyone, even enough to make them want to give up. But the perspective is misguided. The problem is we are focused on the toys and the sandbox instead on what matters the most.
I'm proposing whether we live on Long Island or in a cardboard box in some remote jungle, which is to say we either own a piece of the sandbox and some toys or we dream about them, our contentment will ultimately only rest on one thing: being welcomed as a participant in the play. In short, we all simply want to love and be loved. I don't give a rip who we might be or what we might control, none of it matters except to love and be loved.
Bruce, Bruce, Bruce, you're such an idealist--such a hopeless romantic--such a naivete.
If we continue to view life from the perspective of the sandbox and toys within it, we will throw up our hands in despair. Of course we will! Because at the end of the day there isn't much any of us on an individual basis can do about the current status of the sandbox or its toys. We might deny this, but deep down we all know it's true. Consequently, some of us--perhaps most of us--give up, and the rest of us retaliate. But these solutions only make matters worse for everybody.
Even though few of us can influence the sandbox or the toys, we can all most definitely affect everyone's basic human need. On an individual by individual basis, regardless of our estate, disposition, health, or what have you, each of us has it in his or her individual prerogative to help another see his or her value. All of us, regardless of the resources at hand, can exult another person. All of us can love another human being.
What would happen if we all did what we all are capable of doing, instead of complaining about what is actually beyond our influence?
By the third century AD, the Roman Empire had become a very nasty place. Infanticide and abortion were rampant. Plagues were taking thousands of lives. Money was so devalued, people resorted to bartering in order to survive. Wars and violence escalated as people tried to capitalize on the growing destabilization of the empire. The mighty Roman Dreadnought was listing and rapidly taking on water.
Yet in the midst of all that gloom and doom--yes, in spite of it--Christians, who were poor and persecuted, themselves--many to the point of painful death--sought to love their neighbor. Within the maelstrom of carnage and fear, Christians trusted their true king, Jesus the Christ, and did what He requires, and many people came to see their lives changed. The Empire around them went from rack to ruin, but many began to feel welcomed and honored again in the sandbox. To be sure, it was a fleeting phenomenon--fleeting because before long even the church would shift its attention away from the Christ to the sandbox and the toys.
If Jesus is our Lord, Master, King, only turning away from Him will limit us from making a difference, not any other limitation. Jesus equips us to love those in our home, our neighborhood, our jobs, our schools, or wherever we might be. Each of us can make a difference in the lives of those next to us. And if everyone were to love their neighbor, the sandbox would again become a wonderful place to play; there would be the sound of laughter instead of mourning--the fulfillment of dreams instead of bitter hopelessness.
The world will never be a utopia until Jesus returns to consummate His kingdom. But we would all do better to attend to the matters within our control than to abdicate responsibility or continue to grab all we can for ourselves. Jesus died on the cross that we might have the power to shine a light in the darkness. Apprehend His power, and lead that person next to you back to the sandbox.
Posted by Bruce Kokko at 7:15 PM
Tuesday, November 13, 2012
As you may have noticed, I'm having an absolute heyday sifting through the archives of Chemical and Engineering News. The latter is the official general interest news magazine of the American Chemical Society. C&E News goes back to 1923. Perusing those back issues, as when reading old newspapers or watching old newsreels, is about as close as one can get to stepping into a time machine. It's spellbinding to listen to ghosts from the past discuss their world. The listener never knows what gems he might unearth in the process.
One such gem was written by the famous, prolific writer and scientist, the late Dr. Isaac Asimov. His paper entitled, "The By-Product of Science Fiction," appeared on page 3882 of the August 13, 1956 edition of C&E News (I was only a little shy of two months old, then). Dr. Asimov was troubling over the anti-intellectualism rampant in American culture, and how good science fiction served as a stronghold for a much needed respect of intelligence, and a possible model for jump-starting education towards producing the scientists and engineers woefully underrepresented in the general population, yet thoroughly needed to keep America technologically competitive in the world.
Dr. Asimov observed that intellectual pursuits were severely stigmatized, and how the entertainment industry used eyeglasses as a devise in its assault against thinking men and women. Asimov wrote,
"Glasses in the popular visual arts of today are the symbol of developed intellect (presumably because of the belief on the part of the average man that educated men ruin their eyes through over-indulgence in the pernicious and unhealthy habit of reading). Ordinarily, the hero and heroine in a movie or television play do not wear glasses."
He was right, of course. I immediately thought of the scene in The Big Sleep where Marlowe goes into a bookshop to get out of the rain and to possibly acquire some information. He questions the female proprietor, and upon discovering she has a refined sophistication, quickly moves to know her better on a more personal basis, only to insist she first take off her glasses. She does, lets her hair down, too, and closes up shop for the afternoon. What transpires next is left to our imagination (an artifice the movie industry would do well to resurrect).
Dr. Asimov provided his own examples of how intelligence, as symbolized by the donning of eye-glasses, was synonymous with being unattractive, boring, and socially suicidal. He summed up his point this way:
"No, glasses are not literally glasses. They are merely a symbol, a symbol of intelligence. The audience is taught two things: a) Evidence of extensive education is a social hindrance and causes unhappiness; b) formal education is unnecessary, can be minimized at will, and the resulting limited intellectual development leads to happiness."
All of which sounds a bit like "ignorance is bliss." Perhaps it is. Thinking too much can be depressing; the famous mathematician, Kurt Godel, was found dead, laying in the fetal position.
The stigma of intelligence has, unfortunately, persisted into the present day. However, it isn't portrayed using eye-glasses so much any more; instead, the media have reincarnated the idea in the stereotypical geek.
Our society has put geeks on display. Like the freak shows of old, we exhibit our geniuses in cages to gawk at, ridicule, and tease. At best, we pity their malady; at worst, we despise them for it. And this happens for the same reason it happened a half-century ago: the belief that intelligence equals dull, uninteresting, and ugly.
I don't know why this is so. I suspect it is rooted in fear, somehow. Knowledge and the use of knowledge is power, and people tend to fear power they can't wield themselves. Alternatively, people might be afraid of what they might discover if they think about anything too intensely, so they avoid it--like turning up the volume on the car radio to drown out the sinister noise coming from the engine compartment.
Sadly, many Christians have bought into anti-intellectualism. This is a colossal tragedy because our Lord, Master, King, Jesus the Christ is God dwelling with us. We see God when we see Jesus. This means we can finally know and understand Truth. Jesus assures us that He is the only way, the truth and the life. And He tells us this truth--the Truth--shall set us free. Among many things, this means we can boldly engage in the myriad thoughts and ideas of this world to reveal truth and dismiss the lies; in short, we can fearlessly be lights shining in a dark world; indeed, that is why we are here.
Therefore, Christians should champion intelligence and the pursuit of knowledge. Because Jesus the Christ lives and we confess uncompromised allegiance to Him as dwellers in His kingdom, we can confidently and proudly keep those glasses on.
Posted by Bruce Kokko at 5:00 PM
Tuesday, November 6, 2012
A powerful, heartwarming, and true redemption story recently passed my desk. It is actually fairly well known. In fact, the Christian song writer, Matthew West, wrote a song called, Forgiveness, in honor of the remarkable woman whose story it is (check it out on YouTube). It just goes to show I need to get out of my library more often.
If you already know the story, stay with me as I briefly review what happened for the rest of my readers who, as I, have been out of the loop.
Renee, a mother of twin daughters lost one of them in a car crash in Florida. A twenty four year old man named, Eric, was drunk and rammed into the girl's car killing both the girl and her friend. Grimly, it is an all too common fate in this world. I can't possibly know what it must be like to lose a child. I try to think of the worst thing that ever happened to me and multiply it by a thousand, but I fear the pain I manage to conjure up falls way short of what Renee must have felt, and still feels.
Eric was arrested, tried, and sentenced to twenty two years. It would seem all that was left for Renee to do was to pick up the pieces as best she could, and attempt to cope with unfathomable grief she was sure to carry the rest of her life.
But the story didn't end there. Renee kept the mangled car, put it on a trailer, and carted it around to high schools as a prop for her to use as she lectured on the evils of drinking and driving.
Renee soon realized, though, she was harboring an unforgiving heart; so she began visiting Eric in prison. She forgave him, and Eric, overwhelmed by such mercy when he couldn't even forgive himself, turned to Christ. After gaining permission from the authorities, Eric began accompanying Renee on her lecture tours. No longer was the message only about drunk driving, but a powerful witness to the healing impact of forgiveness. Eric has since become like a son to Renee and her husband, and a brother to their two other children. As a final gesture of restoration, Renee petitioned the court to have Eric's sentence reduced to eleven years so he can start his life anew. I understand Eric is due to be released this month.
Wow! Renee certainly knows who her King is, and knows what it means to dwell in His kingdom. If you listen to her, you will discover she is quick to deflect the story away from herself to God. Renee gives God all the glory for this amazing redemption story.
Much can be said, and has been said about forgiveness using Renee's story. But it is also an excellent illustration of true justice.
Renee could have, as many mothers have done in identical situations, demanded Eric's head on a platter. And she could have easily validated her request on the basis of justice: an eye for an eye.... And most people would have supported her. But Renee didn't pursue this natural reaction. Instead, she clearly stepped back from her emotions long enough to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit within her teach her something about true justice--that is, the justice of the Kingdom of God.
Think about it. Eye for an eye, what we call distributive justice--everyone gets their due--doesn't lead to a just state--the right order of things. If Eric's life had been taken in retribution for the loss of Renee's daughter's life, we would all end up where we started: the chaos--disorder--of death, where guilt and bitterness rule.
However, by extending mercy to Eric as Renee so lovingly did out of loving obedience to Jesus her Lord, King, Master, both her daughter's life and Eric's were redeemed. Renee's mercy snatched life from death, with the result of a movement from injustice to justice. Placing her grief, anger, hurt, and bitterness at the feet of Jesus the Christ, restored the relationships between the players and God and between the players and players, all to the glory of God.
Of course, Eric might have chosen to reject Renee's outreach of mercy, or exploit it, but such actions would have been his responsibility, alone. I cannot say if Renee considered this possibility when she first reached out to Eric. The fact she did reach out to him in mercy, tells me she fully trusted God to bring true and final justice to the situation--regardless of the outcome. And such trust on her part is not mindless, because true justice can only be administered in a given matter by someone who knows everything--past, present, future--of the circumstances, contexts, and lives involved. Only God has such perfect insight, so only God can be perfectly just.
I rejoice, and praise God upon hearing accounts of Christians such as Renee; because it is the still, small voice of God telling us in a murky, dark, and noisy world what He told the prophet Elijah in similar circumstances: "I still have a remnant who hasn't bowed to Baal."
Posted by Bruce Kokko at 7:36 PM
Monday, October 29, 2012
It was announced this last week that global warming ceased sixteen years ago--that is, the average global temperature has remained constant for sixteen years. The new data put the global warming proponent's model in jeopardy, and of course, the whole idea of an anthropogenic cause of the alleged global temperature rise. The anthropogenic global warming proponents will not capitulate, but insist they won't worry about their theory until they see the data four years from now.
All of this comes coincidental to a recent request by a dear friend of mine for my opinion on the global warming debate. Being an organic chemist, I'm not well versed in atmospheric chemistry, geophysics, meteorology, or earth science in general; in fact, my ninth grade science teacher left all of that as a bad taste in my mouth. However, I did provide my friend with a copy of a reasonably fair treatise of the debate written by Steven Ritter in the December 14?, 2009 Chemical & Engineering News.
Interestingly, I was recently perusing the 1954 archives of C&E News, and chanced upon an article about the then raging debate over whether cigarettes cause cancer. There I found two scientists, each representing his own set of supporters, discussing the same set of data, and coming to completely opposite interpretations. It's almost as if the script used in that cigarette debate has simply been updated for the global warming debate. The 1954 article didn't attempt to explain the underlining cause for the disagreement, as did the 2009 article, the global warming debate; but I suspect the reason was the same: economics. I can only imagine how influential the tobacco industry was back then.
I gave my friend a copy of the 1954 article as well, in order to help him see, as we all should, how biased scientists really are, even though they affect Spock-like objectivity.
But as I explained to my friend, the whole global warming brouhaha is less important to me than how many professing Christians have been reacting to it. What follows is a part of a letter I wrote my friend to explain what I mean.
Posted by Bruce Kokko at 8:03 PM
Thursday, October 25, 2012
[Please read the last posting before continuing here....]
Zack became intoxicated with power. For him, power meant solitude on the one hand and control on the other--the high watermarks of a successful life.
An Arab once told him, "Death is power, I believe. You kill a man, you own his brother."
"No, my friend," Zack replied, "If it is believed you will kill without remorse, then you own both brothers. That is power."
Conversations of this type were purely academic to Zack, though. It was one thing to cheat a man of his purse, but quite a different matter to cheat him of his life. Even though Zack had the means to kill with impunity, he would never actually do such a thing. But only he knew that.
This is why Zack became intrigued by reports of an itinerant Rabbi who has exhibited great power. It was said he healed sick people--the blind, lame, even lepers. Others made the fantastic claim this Rabbi had raised the dead. When news came this Rabbi would be traveling through Jericho, Zack determined to see him.
The day did arrive, and the streets of the city were pregnant with people, all vying for a peek at the living legend. Zack pushed against the shifting wall of humanity. At first they reluctantly accommodated him. But when Zack's desire to see the Rabbi became apparent to them, they deliberately closed him off. They flashed him barely disguised looks of contempt as they happily blocked his way.
Seeing a sycamore tree arching its long branches towards the narrowing of the road by which the parade was traveling, Zack ran behind the throng to the tree, and climbed it. Out on one of its thick limbs, Zack could peek over the heads of the crowd and see the Rabbi leading a procession of his disciples.
Zack doubted the reports. From his vantage point, the famous Rabbi seemed quite unremarkable. Surely a man of such alleged power would show it. But this man was ordinary and plain--far too humble to possess such prowess.
"What are you doing?" Zack muttered under his breath. The Rabbi had stopped and was watching him. Oh, please, please don't draw attention to me, Zack pleaded in his heart. Too late; everyone began looking around to see what had caught the Rabbi's eye. The Rabbi started towards Zack, keeping his gaze on him.
"Well I'll be," someone in the crowd said. Another pointed and said, "This might be good." A person overhearing the comment agreed and added, "Yeah, maybe Scratch will get what's comin' to him." Suddenly, all up and down the line the people quieted to catch what the Rabbi would do to the old sinner.
Standing beneath Zack, with his eyes still fixed on him, the Rabbi said, "Zacchaeus, come down quickly, because I must stay at your house today.”
The onlookers gasped in astonishment. "Doesn't he know who that is?" someone said. "I don't believe it," chimed in another. One of the Pharisees in the group said, "It's just the kind of thing I'd expect him to do."
But Zacchaeus was dumbstruck for an entirely different reason: the Rabbi had called him by name--by name! Why would he do that? How could he do that? And even more perplexing, when the Rabbi had gotten close, Zacchaeus could clearly see a kindness in the Rabbi's eyes of a quality he had never experienced before, and doubted anyone had. What power is this? Zacchaeus thought.
Coming to his senses, Zacchaeus quickly clamored down the tree--practically falling out. People stepped aside to let him join the Rabbi. "Oh, please, yes, Rabbi. I would be most honored. Please, allow me to lead you there."
Everyone watched as Zacchaeus led the Rabbi and his disciples to his house. Zacchaeus suddenly felt angry at all the sneering, envious, derisive, and disgusted faces meeting him as he passed by. Every so often Zacchaeus would look furtively back at the Rabbi, fearing it had all been a joke at his expense. But the Rabbi still followed, and his face retained that inexplicable countenance of serenity and mercy. The contrast between the Rabbi's gentle demeanor and the crowd's contempt pounded hard on the door to Zacchaeus' heart, causing the framework to crack and the hinges to loosen.
Later, the Rabbi and his disciples reclined with Zacchaeus at his table for the evening meal. Zacchaeus had left the door to his house open so people could watch the proceedings from the sides of the room.
The Rabbi spoke of how the Kingdom of God was near--even at the threshold. A Pharisee scoffed and said, "Why do you recline with such a sinner? Don't you know who this man is?"
The Rabbi turned his head back towards the Pharisee and said, "It's not for the well the physician comes, but for the sick."
"You are demon possessed to pay such honor to a demon," the Pharisee snapped.
"Why are you so ready to see this man condemned? Do you not know that when judgment comes the end comes with it? Or is your heart like Jonah's, who feared God's mercy more than His wrath? Know what it means, ‘I want mercy and not sacrifice.'"
Zacchaeus listened to this exchange in disbelief; he had not seen power such as this any where at any time. It dawned on him this would have to be the case because what he was witnessing was real power.
As that power continued to bash down the door to Zacchaeus' heart, his mind desperately tried to wrap itself around the profundity of this revelation of real power. He knew it was true, but what did real mean? His power was real, too, wasn't it? People feared him; they fawned over him; wasn't that real power? Yet here was a man who spoke with such authority, and no one in the room feared him. Why?
Zacchaeus' eyes darted from the Rabbi to his disciples to his servants to the quests and back to the Rabbi. Suddenly, Zacchaeus realized how perilously close they all were to a precipice. Zacchaeus had the means to push them over the edge; they all knew it, and that's why they so easily capitulated to him. But he also knew if given a chance, they would push him over, in a heart beat. But Zacchaeus began to suspect this Rabbi would willingly jump first if it meant keeping all of them from falling. This was real power. The power Zacchaeus possessed, the kind these people secretly coveted, flowed from fear, and so could vanish in an instant. The Rabbi's power flowed from mercy, so it would go on and on. Yes, this was real power. Everyone in that room should fear this power; instead, they sneered at it, not realizing how close they all were to falling into the abyss.
The door of Zacchaeus' heart could no longer bear the strain, and came crashing down. The anger pent up behind it gushed forth.
"How dare you insult a quest in my house!" Zacchaeus screamed.
For the first time in his life, Zacchaeus had defended another person. And for the first time in his life he experienced the mercy he had sought with wailing until his tears ran out and he shut up his heart.
“Look, Lord, half of my possessions I now give to the poor, and if I have cheated anyone of anything, I am paying back four times as much!” Zacchaeus declared.
Then Jesus (for this was the Rabbi's name) said to him, “Today salvation has come to this household, because he too is a son of Abraham! For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
Posted by Bruce Kokko at 7:04 PM
Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Zack was an angry man. Who could blame him? He was a short, dumpy kind of a guy, who stood out from the crowd as one to be avoided. Although that wasn't always the case; as we shall learn he brought most of this shunning upon himself. In his youth he had stood out from the crowd for a completely different reason. In those days Zack was the world's whipping boy--a mobile and accommodating punching bag for anyone and everyone to vent their frustrations, insecurities, and rage. Only later did people's response to Zack change from exploitation born out of indifference, to pure hatred wrought by jealousy and envy.
Zack didn't know he was angry. He regarded people too little to consciously muster such an emotion. He may have known anger back in the day when how people felt about him mattered. Now, for Zack, the public was nothing more than cattle to be bought or sold. The damage he inflicted on them was far worse than the pitiful effects of the abuse he had received as a child and adolescent, and definitely more lucrative. His antipathy towards his fellow race seared his conscience and rendered fleecing them a simple matter. After all, it's easy to win the game when you don't have to play by the rules.
As with all families, being the second son disadvantaged Zack. The contrast between him and his first born brother made Zack's plight far worse from the beginning. His elder brother, Andrew, was a tall, handsome, strong, and self-confident man who shared his father's passions and aspirations. On the other hand, Zack had been born prematurely, which stunted his growth, and left him weak, clumsy, pale, and sickly as a child. He was a child only a mother could love. As one might expect, it was a no brainer for Zack's father to dote on Andrew and ignore Zack. If in those inevitable public situations, Zack's father was forced to acknowledge both his sons, he quickly diverted all attention to Andrew. Zack quickly learned to not fight it, and would happily and unobtrusively slip into the solace of the shadows. After a time, the adults of the village hardly knew Zack was alive.
On one of those rare intimate moments Zack coveted with his father, his father told him, "Don't expect too much from life, boy." Any other child would have starved on such meager nourishment; Zack would live off that thin gruel of his father's attention like a roach from a grease spot.
Zack's mother loved him. But in those days it was a man's world; a mother's love hardly mattered to a boy. His father's obvious distain of Zack gave the other boys permission to taunt Zack. And this they did with relentless relish. Zack needed no mirror to see himself, his peers gladly assumed the role. And the image they reported back to him was decidedly unflattering.
Zack was angry with God.
Yet Zack possessed one favorable trait that had gone unnoticed by his peers, the villagers, and his father: Zack was smart. And it is an awesome thing to see what a brilliant mind can accomplish when left alone to contemplate. A person can learn a lot by watching life from off-stage. Zack quickly learned where people were most vulnerable. When he completed his education, Zack departed home to make his fortune.
Zack the man knew business. He could turn a denarius into a talent with a flick of his wrist. He had become a financial wizard overnight. Many suspected Zack of cheating, but could never prove it. Zack did cheat. Some have said if a criminal genius put that intellect to honest work instead of crime he would be far richer. Zack proved the aphorism false. In short order Zack amassed enough to buy the muscle he had been robbed of at birth. The little man had grown big. No one was laughing any more, and there was nothing they could about it.
Zack settled down in the Las Vegas of Palestine--the oasis of the rich, famous, and influential at the cross-roads of the world. Jericho was the perfect place for a man of Zack's means and genius to prosper. Opportunity frequented Zack's door. No one liked him, but Zack's business acumen brought patrons from the four corners of the empire--Phrygia, Alexandria, Carthage, Ephesus, Damascus, Tyre, Athens, Tarsus, Rome. Zack grew richer just sitting by his swimming pool.
All this acquired power drowned out the anger burning within Zack like Gehenna outside Jerusalem. Even though he no longer sensed it, his deep seated resentment lived on as a curse he long ago raised up to God for being born.
One of Zack's many slaves lowered a platter of fruit to him. He drew a few figs from the plate as he recalled what his father had said. Flinging one of the fruits into his mouth, he thought, I won't, Pops.
[Come back Sunday night for the conclusion of Zack's story......]
Posted by Bruce Kokko at 6:56 PM
Tuesday, October 16, 2012
My wife and I recently watched the movie rendition of The Great Gatsby, starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow. This is one of her favorite films, so she has seen it many times. The last time I watched it was when it first came to the theaters way back in the seventies.
As with all great works of literature, F. Scott Fitzgerald powerfully captures the human condition, this time in the mileau of American aristocratic decadence of the roaring twenties. The story depicts for us how people attempt to buy relationships--that is, love--but of course, utterly fail with tragic consequences. The best money can buy is a cheap facsimile of loyal love; like a well crafted prop used in theater, what money buys looks good only from twenty feet away.
You may be thinking I'm stating the obvious. Yes, there are many more important ideas to be fished out of this piece written at the height of Existentialism. But obvious or not, I know all too many people who have reduced relationships to commodities. Nothing has changed with humankind except the dress, technology, and, perhaps, the latest philosophical vogue. And contemporaries of Fitzgerald would have said the same. The message as conspicuous as it is, is apparently lost on most people, and there is a reason for this, but we won't go into that, now.
You might also be wondering why I have this tendency to be a bummer in my blogs. I'm sorry. What hope do we have, though, if we believe we have evolved away from the shallow bankruptcy, decadence, and prejudice of eighty years ago, when we clearly haven't? Let's be honest; our entire society is structured around the lie that money--that is, power--can buy me love. As painful as this is to admit about ourselves, I would be remiss to not bring it up just to avoid being a bummer; I really care about all of us; in every great story you can't have the resolution of the third act without the dire straits of the second act--unless of course, you were one of the early twentieth century American writers who didn't believe there was any resolution to be had (there's that Existentialism I mentioned, rearing its ugly head).
The Great Gatsby poignantly shows us how powerless money (power) is at securing for us love and justice--the two things we secretly desire most of all.
Anyway, I didn't really start off to talk about all that; I have another point to make.
As I said, the last time I watched The Great Gatsby was when it first came out in the theater thirty odd years ago. My girlfriend and I (actually, Melissa was a close friend who was a girl; so it is somewhat misleading to call her my girlfriend) loved to go to movies, and since we had met in American Lit. class, what better movie to see together than The Great Gatsby.
Well, there we were sitting side-by-side in the dark theater watching the film, as any boy and girl would if they were only good friends, when the climatic scene came where Gatsby is shot while he was floating in his swimming pool. Some lady sitting behind us gasped and cried out, "Good god, he shot Robert Redford!" Melissa and I turned around and glared at the women, incredulous.
It dawned on me that most people respond to the Gospel of Christ much the same way as that woman did the tragic end of Gatsby. What is the Gospel of Christ? The Gospel is this. Jesus died for our sins, was buried, was raised to life on the third day, and ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of God. God brought the long sweeping epic of the story of Israel, which was for the benefit of the whole world, to the promised climax of the death, resurrection, and exaltation of Israel's representative, Jesus the Messiah (Christ), Lord, Master, King. The typical response seen, I'm sad to admit, both in myself and much of American Christendom is "What's in it for me?" And from outside American Christendom the typical response is "By god, who does god think he is?"
Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father [God] except through Me." We know Jesus isn't blowing smoke because He was raised from the dead back to life. The historically proven fact of Jesus' resurrection validates all of His claims, and puts Him on the throne as King over all creation, which includes you and me. Shouldn't our response to the Gospel be markedly different?
I wonder if all those who have preceded us, who, when they heard the Gospel, cried out "What must I do?" and submitted themselves to the King, I wonder if they aren't facing us with that same bewilderment Melissa and I felt towards that clueless woman.
Posted by Bruce Kokko at 5:21 PM
Tuesday, October 9, 2012
Do you ever pause long enough during your fast paced life to consider your life? If you do, what do you see? Do you shudder and quickly slam the door to the room housing the effects of your past? While almost in a panic, do you then lock the door, and begin searching for some way to conveniently lose the key--wondering what madness ever possessed you to attempt such a thing in the first place?
If you're similar to me, you probably retain the key for those times when curiosity, or the need to be validated, or a need for a ready excuse for your actions, or a need for an explanation suddenly compels you to peek again into the dark, dusty, dank room of your life.
Perhaps you're not like me, at all. Instead, you approach your life after the fashion of the fabled Italian race car driver who, while ripping the rear view mirror from its mooring, proclaims, "Whatsa behinda me isa not importante."
Then again, maybe you live in that room, obsessively filing, polishing, and scrutinizing your past failures or successes--hopelessly ensnared by past glories and crippling guilt.
And maybe you find all this kind of chat rather annoying. Your motto is to live for the day. You see no need to worry about either the future or the past; today is all that matters--carpe diem--eat, drink, for tomorrow we die.
I wonder who of us is right.
Well, herein lies one of the great marvels of the Gospel, where we encounter evidence of the insuperable liberating power of Jesus, because we are all right--that is, there is truth in each of the above life strategies.
Jesus died, was buried, and on the third day was raised to life; so we can live in His kingdom as forgiven people; we no longer have to fear the contents of that old room, but able to leave its door wide open; because of the faithfulness of Christ, we are able to confidently proceed in a life submitted to Jesus. Indeed, Saint Paul spoke for all of us in Christ:
"Forgetting the things that are behind and reaching out for the things that are ahead, with this goal in mind, I strive toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." [NET]
Nor do we need to fear the future because we know in following Jesus, even should we stumble, He is faithful to forgive us, and pick us up again to keep moving on in life--eternal life. Through His Spirit He lovingly gives us, we recognize when we fall and the path to repentance.
By this same Spirit we learn how to live in His kingdom. One way His Spirit accomplishes this is by reminding us of our past failures--not in condemnation, but to redeem them into a wisdom for living in the present and beyond. His love being poured into our hearts steadies our path through this present life of certain temptations, distractions, and yes, troubles by using our experiences to teach us. What were once agents of guilt become for us in Jesus agents of restoration.
You see, there is truth, and therefore value in opening the door to the room of our past; there is value to taking time to evaluate what we find there, so we can properly press on by living for today without worry for tomorrow. Jesus promises this to everyone who dwells with Him in His kingdom:
"So then, don’t worry saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For the unconverted pursue these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But above all pursue his kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. So then, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Today has enough trouble of its own." [NET]
On the other hand, to cling tenaciously to any one of those above life strategies will always leave us wanting. Jesus would not have us use the freedom He has purchased for us to either wallow in our sinfulness or pursue our selfish-ambition.
God loves us and cares about our whole life; for this reason He has restored His kingdom to us who repent. And by trusting His one, only, and unique Son, Jesus the Christ--our King, Master, Lord--with a trust evinced by our obedience, we live that whole life to the fullest, forever. It is the life we all secretly want, for it is a life of purpose and meaning. Life we have with and through our King is true peace, and lasting joy, even though for the present it is not always happy.
In the kingdom of God, the room of our life need no longer be a fearful place; we can tear down that old warning sign, Enter at Your Own Risk!, and boldly explore the good and the horrible of our life's treasures.
What a terrifyingly wondrous, liberating thing it is to leap into the hands of the Living God.
Posted by Bruce Kokko at 6:00 PM
Tuesday, October 2, 2012
It seems to me we humans easily mistake emotional fervor for an indefatigable strength. I remember as a young man after watching an action movie such as James Bond or Star Wars, I would leave the theater feeling invincible. Bring it on! I'd think. Come on, make my day! (Can you guess what decade I attended college?)
Then came the season of my life when my friends and I would go shooting. I packed a Ruger Super Blackhawk in a hip holster right out of Fist Full of Dollars, donned a Clint Eastwood Stetson, and with squinting eyes, rolled a thin cigar back and forth across my front teeth. I swore I heard Ennio Morricone's music swelling in the background: Ah-e-Ah-e-Ah! The problem with this was my mind's eye image of myself at that moment fell hopelessly outside reality; at nineteen years of age, I looked as if I were ten or eleven (good grief, I didn't even start shaving regularly until I reached twenty four). I will say, though, I played the role perfectly if the movie had been entitled The Good, The Bad, The Baby.
And remember when visualization was the big rage in the winter Olympics? Let's face it, no amount of head bobbing up and down, back and forth, and round and round, in an attempt to psych the luger into a gold medal run, will ever substitute for ten thousand hours of actual practice.
In the final analysis, all of our emotionalism, mental resolve, and enthusiasm will fail us every time. It's like flying in a plane, and seeing a thick dense bank of clouds, I convince myself I could walk on them; so, I step out of the plane...well, you know what will happen.
The apostle Peter suffered from these same kinds of delusions. Just before Jesus was arrested, He told His disciples they would bolt the minute Jesus was apprehended. Here's what Peter had to say about that:
“Even if they all fall away, I will not!....Even if I must die with you, I will never deny you.”
And all of them said the same thing.
But Jesus told Peter he would deny having ever known, Jesus. And of course, Peter did exactly that. Peter mistook his emotional fervor for a true indefatigable strength.
Standing alone, the picture I have painted must seem pretty bleak, even depressing. But just because we so easily trust in will-of-the-wisps doesn't mean there is no real strength to be had. Jesus urged His disciples to pray so they wouldn't fall into temptation. In other words, God was ready to give them the strength to overcome their fears and stand with Jesus. But Peter and his brethren decided to sleep instead of praying. Now, we can sympathize with them somewhat; it was late, and they had recently finished dinner, so they were probably tired; you and I would have been tired, too. Yet, there are times when we must override our fatigue, and this was one of those times for the disciples. Like us, though, I suspect they argued for sleep on the basis of their resolve to loyally stand and defend their master, and the inherent benefits of sleep.
In one way or another, as did Jesus' disciples that horrid night, we all fall victim to our own hubris.
Having a vision or motivation is certainly valuable; the problem is thinking the vision is sufficiently powerful in its own right. The real tragedy for Peter and the gang was not their determination, but their failure to pray for God to empower them to make good their determination.
As Christ followers--that is to say, as dwellers in the kingdom of God--we must trust God by surrendering ourselves unconditionally to Him. Such trust is what it means to live by faith. Our strength can only be found in God. Jesus said, "Outside of Me, you can do nothing." Without trusting God completely, we will fail to meet the vision He has given for us--even should we swoon at the sight of its beauty. Worse, if we don't trust God as if our life depended on it--and it does--we will substitute our own vision for His vision. And as with all lies, our self-delusions will propagate geometrically in an effort to cover themselves, leading us farther and farther away from the truth; we learn the hard way that the clouds in our minds we felt certain would carry us, leave us to free-fall into an abyss, every time.
When Jesus tells us to follow Him, He doesn't mean in vision only, but with utter dependence on Him for our strength.
Posted by Bruce Kokko at 4:08 PM
Tuesday, September 25, 2012
Every so often a person enters your life who restores your hope for humanity. The person so evinces the character of Jesus, any doubt you might have about the existence of God quickly vanishes. Those of you who have faithfully followed this blog will know my beautiful wife fits the description I mean, and that is one of the zillion reasons I love her so much. Even though she is constantly on my mind, my wife doesn't happen to be the person I'm thinking about in this context at this moment, though.
Years ago, Clarence Wildes came on board the pastoral staff at the church I was attending. They made him the visitation pastor.Clarence has one of the gentlest hearts I've known in a fellow human being; a model of meekness and purity, Clarence is the poster child of the beatitudes; so you can imagine how popular he became with the sick and infirm parishioners. The rest of us cherished him, too.
This humble man possesses the childlike attributes of trust and faithfulness our Lord stressed as fundamental to entering His kingdom. These childlike qualities manifest themselves in Clarence in impishness, as well. His quiet demeanor easily distracts one to the coming salvo of insightful and clever humor that rarely disappoints, and is always accompanied by a sparkle in his eyes. But this childlike nature in no way implies simple-mindedness. Clarence is an avid scholar of C. S. Lewis, and always quite prepared to hold his own in the meatiest of theological discussions. But what I admire most about Clarence is he never lets doctrine or abstract ideas get in the way of serving King Jesus by loving people by always trying to see them as God sees them.
Clarence came to mind recently because I have found myself in one fashion or another embroiled in the endless conversation about God's sovereignty and human responsibility. Wait! Step away from that escape key! I'm not going to drag you into that fray, here. No, I only want to share a relevant lesson Clarence had taught me years ago concerning Jesus' invitation to all of us:
"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and my load is not hard to carry.” [NET]
Clarence explained how his father had employed oxen for certain tasks on their farm; I don't recall what the tasks were, but it's not important. He said the way they trained an adolescent ox for the job was by yoking it to an adult. The adult actually bore the load of both yokes, but the young ox in this manner remained involved, learning the process of the job as it followed the experienced oxen. The young ox shared, therefore, in the work of the other oxen, and walked the same path they did. But the adult ox carried what the adolescent couldn't, while showing it what they both would do together more completely when the young ox fully matured.
It's just like Clarence to cut through all of the theological jargon and hair-splitting, and bring us to the simple truth and power of faith.
Clarence has grown old and afflicted with Parkinson's disease; yet none of this has dimmed the light of the Holy Spirit shining unabashedly from his soul. And this light will continue to shine because Clarence never forgets to whom he must remain yoked.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but lives such as Clarence's take us out of words, altogether, where we are no longer encumbered by them and so can finally begin to understand what the apostle John meant when he wrote, "By this we know that we are in him. The one who says he resides in God ought himself to walk just as Jesus walked."
Posted by Bruce Kokko at 8:44 PM
Tuesday, September 18, 2012
Last week I finally sat down and watched the 1930 film rendition of Erich Maria Remarque's anti-war story, All Quiet on the Western Front. Some of you might be wondering what took me so long. All I can say is my life's riddled with imperfections, one of which is the tendency to overlook diamonds lying out in the open in the tall grass of life. Remarque's grim tale certainly falls in the category of a rare gem.
It had been said that WWI was the war to end all wars; AQOTWF should've been the story to end all wars. Sadly, both prognostications have long since been obliterated by an unrelenting barrage of ordinance of incalculable quantity. Since the days of WWI, when millions of faces of pawns had been sent up against dispassionate walls of machine gun lead to no purpose other than pride of might and nationalism, the slaughter has continued unabated. Only, today we are more sterile in our execution; we launch missiles from aircraft deployed hundreds of miles away from a target. We watch the unsuspecting target via satellite as the rocket surgically incinerates human beings--nameless faces of both the guilty and the innocent. And we congratulate ourselves because, as one person explained to me, "If we don't destroy our enemy, our enemy will destroy us."
In this week's issue of the American Chemical Society news magazine, C&E News, I read about the extensive research being conducted to build the bigger better bomb--that is, chemists are working to improve upon the ever faithful explosive RDX by synthesizing a new explosive of equal or more explosive power, less sensitivity, and--get this--less toxicity to the environment. I can only comment as the physician did at the end of Bridge on the River Kwai while witnessing senseless and futile carnage unfolding around him: "Madness. Madness."
It may be the old Prussian idea of soldiering as essential to completing a man has largely died out; but clearly other drivers such as nationalism, prejudice, and fear live on. Don't be fooled, though; as misdirected as these motivations are, governments have institutionalized them in order to more easily goad the taxpaying public into war. People willingly leap in front of bullets for some vague sense of justice contrived by their leaders, who we have to suspect are actually in it for self-interest and power.
Did I mention power?
Power belongs only to our creator God to wield and allocate, because only God is Good. And the only path to the justice and peace we all claim to want will be through the proper dispensing of this power according to God's kingdom principles of love in holiness. Only through the consistent extension of mercy in the face of opposition will we ever hope to see the end of war.
Some have suggested I want a free ride on the backs of those willing to risk their lives for my home and country by going off to war. But war has never bettered the world, and it never will. War cannot solve the problems of human society because it contradicts what is truly human.
Of course, war is here to stay until Jesus returns to fully establish His kingdom; so I know all too well Christians must be a part of this ongoing tragedy. But we must do this by giving to Caesar what is Caesar's, and giving to God what is God's. Walking with Jesus in His kingdom juxtaposed with the kingdom of this fallen world is a both/and proposition, not an either/or proposition. Thus, Christians must not sit in the bleachers; instead, they must willingly sacrifice themselves by first working in their local spheres of influence to relieve the poverty, injustice, prejudice, and fear fueling human conflicts; Christians accomplish this without trying to make the people they minister be something the people are not--that's God's job to do--but by encouraging them towards the eternally satisfying condition they can find only in God's kingdom.
And, yes, Christians, must enter the battlefields--no free rides; not to kill, but to pick of the pieces, mend the wounds, and grieve with the mourners. The actor who portrayed the main protagonist, Paul, in AQOTWF became a pacifist during WWII, to the detriment of his career. Yet he bravely risked his life countless times as a medic during the many raging battles. I don't know if he did this for Christ's sake, but his actions illustrate the both/and concept I'm advocating here.
Understand, I am not judging my fellow Christians who have taken up arms for their country; that is not my intent, nor do I even have any right to pass such judgment. C.S. Lewis, the premier Christian thinker of the twentieth century, fully embraced war. He spoke glibly of how two Christians on opposite sides could kill each other one minute, and be laughing together in heaven the next. It might be convincingly argued, as well, that the only way to stop a Hitler is to kill him. Certainly, Chamberlain's brand of pacifism--peace in our times--wasn't up to the task. But are we really confident that a third non-violent approach wouldn't have worked to bring down the Nazis? We'll never know.
In any event, so-called just wars such as WWII are rare exceptions in the long course of bloody human history. In one sense it doesn't matter. Should the day ever come, I will without hesitation use any lethal source at my disposal to protect my family, friends, and neighbors against a clear and present danger. But only because I lack the faith to defend them the right way.
If we profess Jesus as Lord, then our Master demands us to address injustice in this world through means contrary to this world's methods. We are to love our enemy, pray for those who persecute us, and never repay evil with evil, but repay evil with good. All of which requires us to be living sacrifices through the renewing of our minds. And whether we live or die in the process, we live; because our King, Lord, Master, Jesus overcame death on the cross.
Posted by Bruce Kokko at 4:59 PM
Tuesday, September 11, 2012
As with most young people growing up in Colorado, my friends and I enjoyed camping and hiking in the mountains. I've since moved away to the flatlands; so should the opportunity present itself, I now prefer to experience the mountain scenery through large windows of a lodge, with a glass of wine in hand before a fire crackling in a cavernous fireplace under the watchful eyes of a moose head. My friends who have remained in Colorado tell me they still love to get up close and personal with the Rocky mountains, and it shows in their thin and lithe physiques.
But back in the day (there's that dreaded phrase again), we enjoyed the mountains. And so it was, my friend and I decided to hike up Pikes Peak on one of the trails carved out for that purpose. I don't remember if our intent had been to climb to the top; it may had been; in any event, we ended up camping about half way up before meandering our way back to civilization.
It was just after dawn on a Sunday morning when the mountain disgorged us into the back of Manitou Springs. I recollect the sky being overcast and the site quite deserted. The air was still like the Sargasso Sea. I seem to recall a pumping station for the western slope water shed, but I could be mistaken. If so, the pumps would have made the only sound we had heard--like when the time traveler first entered the lair of the morlocks in H. G. Wells' The Time Machine.
And then I felt it.
My friend did, too, and at the same instant; his eyes told the story. An invisible cloud of gloom diffused around us like Indian ink does in a pool of clear water. A distinct disquiet enveloped us, displacing the fresh air with an oppression that weighed on us.
"You feel it, too," my friend whispered.
I would like to be scientific about the whole experience, but I cannot; an unmistakable Presence closed in around us that morning. And its evil was palpable.
My friend and I were Christians, so we wasted no time analyzing or entertaining the Presence. Indeed, after terse conversation, we bowed our heads and openly but unceremoniously prayed against it. And as quickly as it had infected the atmosphere, it dissipated, leaving behind the cool, fresh, and thin air so welcome on Colorado mornings.
It must be noted that neither my friend nor I were prone to dwelling on matters of the occult or witchcraft; we certainly hadn't been discussing such topics during our excursion that weekend. The Presence had appeared totally unexpectedly; we had arrived at the spot without any thoughts or suspicions of even the possibility of such a manifest evil rearing its ugly head. You must believe me, boogie men were definitely not on our radars. Nor had we been unnerved by the solitude of the place; my friend and I tended to be introverts in those days, so we welcomed the absence of people; we had been quite content to come off the mountain into the deserted back-streets of Manitou Springs. No, the Presence we encountered that Sunday morning was real and malevolent.
You might be asking yourself about now why some nebulous evil should happen to pop up on a Sunday morning at such an obscure place as the foot of Pikes Peak. Well, in the great tradition of the late Paul Harvey, here's the rest of the story.
Months later, in the commons at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, I struck up a conversation with a fellow student who had recently become a Christian. He told me he had come out of the occult. He went on to explain he had been a prominent warlock at one of the local witch covens.
"Witch covens? We have those around here, for real?" I asked.
"Quite a few," he answered.
"I don't believe it," I said.
"Believe it." He looked at me with that kind of expression of cold certainty indifferent to how I might react. "Point of fact," he continued, "except for perhaps San Francisco, Manitou Springs is home to the largest concentration of covens in the country."
Okay, so what's my point?
The next time you turn on the news, open a newspaper, or just walk out the front door into our mad, mad, mad world, tell yourself the chaos is not solely the handiwork of evil human beings, but also that of the Presence, who exploits men and women for the Presence's own evil purposes. And even though the Presence had been defeated two thousand years ago by Jesus on the cross, it still menaces and influences our tormented world. The Presence draws its strength from its deceptions; for Jesus described Satan, the despot of the Presence, this way: "...Whenever he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, because he is a liar and the father of lies." [NET]
Therefore, my point is this. Our hope and security are not in our politics, politicians, philosophies, science, wealth, and the rest because they all are ready pawns in the hands of the Presence. Rather, our hope and security are in Jesus, and Jesus, alone. For Jesus is King; the Presence knows this and shudders. And Jesus' kingdom cannot be shaken; indeed, Jesus' kingdom will one day be all and in all; and Jesus' kingdom lasts forever.
Posted by Bruce Kokko at 7:06 PM
Tuesday, September 4, 2012
At the risk of being a broken record, I want to again say we need to trust God for everything. I suspect you are the same as I am in thinking this is easier said than done. You may have also noticed how I endeavor to distill things down to root principles. I do this because even though the details are important, we easily become overwhelmed and lost in the minutia. And yes, no doubt I can be guilty of oversimplification. I'm willing to take the risk, though, because I firmly believe simplification can lead us to fresh perspectives of what we claim to believe; if I make an oversimplification, you jolly well know it because the exercise provoked you into thinking more deeply on the subject; and that's a good thing.
To remain true to my form, then, I propose we struggle with trusting God because we are afraid. When we peel back all the layers of the onion of our complex lives, the flag we find at the core of our soul--flying motionless, I might add, like the American flag on the moon--that had been planted there by the first of our race to explore that cold desolation, has written on it in large bold black font the obscene four letter "F" word, FEAR.
I could end this posting right here and now by telling you to stop being afraid! trust the Lord! But I don't think that will help you much. I mean, the angels who have visited various persons during the course of millennia, what is the first thing they always say? Don't be afraid. And how often did the visitee actually do that? You know, how often did the person so visited relax, put his arm around the angel's shoulders and say something such as, "Que passa, dude, what's comin' down from on high? Ah, say, Gabe. That's your name, isn't it? Yeah, ah, Gabe, I have, or should I say had this uncle Wooly. I think he's up there someplace. I don't suppose I could impose on you to ask him something for me, when you get back and aren't busy?" The answer is never. All of us would have been shaking in our boots. And we will continue to shake in our boots until we successfully pull that flag from its moorings in our soul and replace it with one bearing the beautiful five lettered "F" word, FAITH, which in essence is trust.
Therefore, the way to trusting God begins with recognizing we are all afraid. But it won't do to simply admonish each other to not be afraid; it's true, of course, but it ain't gonna pay the bill when it comes.
For me, it always helps in praying for matters such as fear, if I can approach God with some idea of what I am up against. This is not universally the case; sometimes all I can say to God is "HELP!" That's good, too. However, knowing the landscapes helps me to pray intelligently and--and this is most important--more clearly recognize God's wise responses and direction.
First, then, we pray for understanding of what feeds our fear. Here are seven back-stories of fear that God might reveal to us. Please comment on others I may have overlooked; the more insight into this fear gripping us, the better.
1) Someone we should have been able to trust, let us down.
2) I, who should have my best interests in mind, have failed myself.
3) I don't want to suffer.
4) I don't want to die.
5) I don't want to be ostracized by my people.
6) I have an inflated ego (either self-deprecating or narcissistic).
7) I need to be in control.
Hmm, some of those categories seem pretty obvious, but the others--in the words of my beautiful wife--not so much. Let me quickly demonstrate how I might contemplate a couple of these in order to better identify the fear in my life and so better know what to pray about.
Point 5 is fear of estrangement, but the more fundamental issue is where one is placing his/her loyalty. Certainly we all want to be accepted by our people; and our people should accept us. But when we curry their favor at the expense of truth, which is a response of fear, we drive ourselves further into fear because the basis of trust--that is, our peoples' good favor--is wholly unreliable. If however, we submit to God, loving our people out of the desire to please God, fear will be replaced by love. In other words, instead of seeking what we can get from our people, which will lead to fear of their disapproval, we seek to please God, and therefore, seek what it is we have to offer to our people--fear turns to love. Understanding our situation this way helps us to pray more effectively and expectantly for God to help us overcome our fear.
Point 6 is fundamentally fear of being found out who the real me is, or more precisely, fear of exposed inadequacy. In his novel, Steppenwolf, Herman Hesse wrote, "...self hate is really the same thing as sheer egoism, and in the long run breeds the same isolation and despair." I would only add that the same fear is behind both self hate and sheer egoism. And it is this fear that leads to the despair Hesse describes. Ironically, both types of personalities are accomplished in one or more things; indeed the more accomplished either person might be the more they actually fear their inadequacies, and defend themselves from possible exposure through sheer egoism. The extreme offensiveness of the narcissist and the false humility of the self-hater are defense mechanisms in response to the same fear of inadequacy. And just as in point 5, the fear responses only serve to intensify the fear. Only when they see that their talents--and we all have talents--are a gift from God to express and act in love for the profit of others, will the fear that grips them begin to turn to love. Understanding this will help them to focus their prayers to overcome their fear.
The apostle John quite correctly wrote, "There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears punishment has not been perfected in love. We love because he [God] loved us first." [NET]
Posted by Bruce Kokko at 4:51 PM
Tuesday, August 28, 2012
What do you confess? Are you a patriot? Perhaps you proudly state that you're an American, and insist that all your fellow Americans remember, if nothing else, that they are Americans. So you are actually making two confessions. The first is a simple statement of national origin, and the second is a statement of national pride.
In order to pin you down more, I will restate my question this way. What or whom do you confess as the final arbiter of your raison d'etre, the thing by which you judge everything else?
If you think about it, you'll discover the picture quickly grows murky for anyone seriously asking the question. For example, being an American deepens to Americanism being the only sane national alternative, which further intensifies into the American national imperative. "I confess I am a Democrat!" you might finally assert. "I'm a Republican!" the person next to you might then shout. Both of you hail American nationalism with equal fervor. So what differentiates you from him/her? What's the beef?
It might surprise you, but the difference is not what you each perceive as the correct national imperative. No, I propose that you and your neighbor are still not confessing what you truly confess. Now, there are a zillion factors to be considered, but I will cut to the critical chase as I see it.
You, the Democrat, might explain, "I know where you're going with this. Let me tell you, I am a Christian. I confess Jesus Christ! And Jesus taught us to care for the poor and repudiate the rich."
"And how do you live by this confession?" I ask.
"I support leaders and government systems that mandate fair distribution of wealth, and who promote peace through tolerance. After all, this is what our founding fathers advocated. It is the glory of Americanism, and why all other nations pale."
Your Republican neighbor quickly chimes in before I can say anything. "I confess Jesus Christ who demands moral purity and everyone working for their bread, which means they must take care of themselves. This is what it means to be American. This is the national ethos that shines above the rest because it demands free opportunity under the strict rule of Judeo-Christian ethics. Our founding fathers would be appalled by the moral laxity and entitlements being leveled on the American public, today."
"How do you live by your confession?" I ask.
"I live it by supporting leaders and government systems who limit their own authority, advocate Christian principles and traditions in the public sector, and insist that everyone carry his own weight."
I step back to watch the two of you--both red-faced--glaring at each other.
The rest of you watching this drama playing out in my mind's eye will perhaps accuse me of creating caricatures. I disagree. The two patriots clearly read from the same music in their heads; the rest, as Wolfie in Amadeus said non plus, is just quibbling and bibbling, bibbling and quibbling. The point is neither person has yet to honestly admit his/her true confession; indeed, they might not even know what it is.
I submit that despite the fact each sees the other as hopeless and--no overstatement, here--evil, they both actually confess the same thing. Both really only want a society where they can be left to themselves and feel good about it. Their truest confession is self-satisfaction--pure and simple.
If any caricature has been painted, it is their caricature of Jesus.
May I remind us that simply asserting Jesus is the son of God doesn't save us or our particular worldview. Frequently in the Gospels we find the demons whom Jesus cast out of people confessing Jesus as the son of God. But their true confession didn't change them; they only cowered.
If we are to confess Jesus in a way that effects a change in us and in the world around us, then we must confess Him as King. If Jesus is our King, we will seek to obey Him according to His standards and not our own or those of the corrupt world. We will obey Him by promoting His kingdom through individual initiative (i.e., not foisting the responsibility on someone else) in our sphere of influence--regardless of who might be in office, or what might be in vogue. We promote his kingdom by caring for the poor, the infirmed, and the marginalized (isn't this what our Democrat friend claims he/she wants?) by freely distributing the wealth God has placed in our possession, fully confident of God's faithfulness. And at the same time, bringing justice (isn't this what our Republican friend claims he/she wants?) by acting mercifully towards everyone including our enemies--yes, especially our enemies. And at the same time willingly dying each and every moment both to and for this corrupt world as Jesus died for all of us.
No doubt this is a hard teaching. Our king makes the most uncomfortable demands on us. God's kingdom completely contradicts this dark world and its ways. So, naturally there will be conflicts, and there won't be peace--at least not yet. But if we truly confess Jesus as our King and Lord, the unrest and conflict we encounter will be a response and not our actions. In other words, we won't be seeking sanctuary from the opposition, nor will we attempt to muzzle the opposition using the world's methods and tactics. Indeed, if we truly trust our King Jesus, we won't be feel threatened, at all. We will understand that the justice will only come through the power of love acting in holiness.
Jesus doesn't want us, as our two friends above are doing, to hide behind other men or women, or ideologies. He calls us to boldly come out of hiding and invest ourselves as representatives of His kingdom to a dark, fearful, and angry world.
We would all do well to assess what we honestly confess.
Posted by Bruce Kokko at 7:25 PM
Tuesday, August 21, 2012
This last week I fell, yet again, into an emotional slump; I felt disillusioned and discouraged; in short, I despaired.
And it's really disgusting when you think about it. By what reason do I have to despair? Compared to literally billions of people, I live in the lap of luxury, ease, and some might even say, decadence. I surely hope they are wrong about the latter assessment. I don't live decadently, but the rest of the point is well taken: I clearly have no reason to despair.
Unfortunately, all too often, I do despair. I'm a petulant human being, and I think a bit of a problem child of God. I can hear the Lord, "Bruce, Bruce, Bruce...you worry about so many things." He'd be right. And worry is nothing more than a symptom of despair.
I should say at this point in my defense, I am not despairing over the things I do or don't have, rather I despair out of a fear I am not using all I have been given--the collective assets of wealth, materials, knowledge, and opportunity--to make a positive difference in this world. I despair I am merely a consumer instead of a producer.
Okay, after you get done gagging, you might suggest if I must despair over something, then that's a good thing to despair about. Thanks, but despair is wrong because at the heart of despair is a lack of trust, or more correctly, a lack of proper trust.
Despite all the airtime I've consumed with this blog extolling the necessity of trusting God, I do a rather poor job of practicing what I preach. The problem is not that God has failed to prove Himself trustworthy. God has all through history proven His faithfulness, the crowning proof, of course, being the incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of His son, Jesus the Christ. And although I seem to quickly forget, God has also countless times proven His loyal love in my personal life.
Certainly, the problem is not with God's faithfulness but with my own lack of faithfulness, which blooms from an improper trust, and quickly wrecks me in the ditch of despair. We can easily see the trust/lack of faithfulness connection, by considering three main manifestations of infidelity: 1) not doing what God wants all of us to do (i.e., blatant disobedience); 2) not doing what God specifically demands of me to do because I'm too busy trying to do what He would have the other guy do; and 3) doing what God asks our own way rather than His way. In each case I trust in myself because of self-interest, with the outcome of being unfaithful to God. And the ensuing failure breeds despair.
At the root of all the above examples of infidelity is an improper trust; that is, we trust in ourselves instead of God. We insist we know better than God what we and the world needs, so we trust ourselves to get the job done. The trouble is we are an unreliable lot. Not only do we let God down time and time again, we let ourselves down countless times. The fact is we are a very poor object of our trust. And as long as we trust in ourselves instead of God, we will despair.
Is despair always a negative condition? We must be careful not to confuse despair with grief. At the root of despair is an improper trust born out of self-interest. But the root of grief is love. There is an inherent hopelessness in despair absent in grief. Despair drives us away from God; grief leads us to Him. Despair causes us to take matters in our own hands, or worse, give up altogether. We can despair at the misery in the world, and be overwhelmed; or we can grieve at the state of the world and look to God to overcome it. Jesus grieved at the waywardness of humankind, and was compassionate. Hmm, come to think of it, anger is the only emotion I ever seem to dredge up in the state of despair--certainly not compassion.
Now that we better understand the mechanism of despair, what can we do to escape its sticky web? As we seek to do the work Christ has for us by clinging tenaciously to Him for our strength, direction, and motivation, we should pray daily with the Psalmist:
Yes, we will suffer; yes, we will grieve; but we won't despair because we are trusting in God, alone.
Posted by Bruce Kokko at 7:24 PM
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
Every year on or around our wedding anniversary I write what I affectionately call the state of the union missive to my wife. The title is purposely tongue-in-cheek. The sole reason for writing it is to celebrate my beautiful wife, to remind her again how much I love and adore her, and to guard myself from ever taking for granted the undeserved blessing she is to me.
Another tradition is our anniversary pilgrimage to a popular get-away vacation spot in our state. The place we retreat is also where we were first hitched. In fact, I'm writing this while sitting on the porch of our favorite B & B. The day is absolutely idyllic, much as it had been the afternoon of our nuptials. Earlier today we picnicked down by the water. It was just us, a couple of young families enjoying their lunches, a light breeze, the periodic calls of the resident sea gulls, and a pleasure craft motoring out into the bay.
Why am I telling you this?
It is in the kinds of moments such as the one I related above, where we have our best chance at seeing our spouse. In the calm serenity and the temporary withdrawal from the cares of life, we have an opportunity to peer into the heart of the companion God has blessed us with. There are imperfections to be found, there, to be sure; such imperfections are also within us for our spouse to see. But I'm suggesting in these tranquil moments, if we really want to, we can call an amnesty, and for a moment see our spouse from his/her perspective--nay, God's perspective--rather than our own.
Some of you at this point might be thinking, "You don't know my wife!" or "You don't know how much my husband hurt me." Of course I don't, at least not in the specific details of your situation. But trust me, I've lived long enough to understand what you are going through; I can empathize with you. But I'm suggesting things will never change for the good if you keep looking at your spouse in the harsh light of accusation and resentment. Despite your take on the history, your spouse carries within him or her the same fears, hopes, failed dreams, and need to be loved as you do. I'm suggesting if you simply take a moment to weigh out each of those areas in your spouse without doctoring the balance with your personal weights and measures, you will suddenly know how you can love your spouse for his/her benefit. And in the process you will be better able to assess your own true situation.
Here's what I propose:
Love you spouse
Forgive your spouse
never look back again
Love your spouse
Tear down the wall between you
even if certain you're not the mason
Love your spouse
Hear his cry
it may be inaudible
Love your spouse
Dry her tears
the well might run deep
Love your spouse
Celebrate his success
it might be all that's left him
Love your spouse
Rejoice in her strength
she might have much to carry
Love your spouse
And never, never, never, seek to make him or her in your image. One can never love one's spouse unless one first loves God. And that begins with understanding He wants all of us to bear His image.
Happy Anniversary my dear, Sara. Thank you for making it so easy to see the love of Christ.
Posted by Bruce Kokko at 4:58 PM