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To Live is to Learn — The World Is My Classroom

For me, “to live is to learn” in the great classroom we call “the world.”  When I reach the point where this is no longer true for me it will be time for me to permanently check out of this life.

This great classroom is full of things to be learned. The physical world around me with all of its beauty and splendor;  the world of ideas in history; in philosophy; in  biography; in theology and spirituality and religion and in science. I am also constantly learning from the people I’m surrounded by and interact with.  All are also part of the great classroom I inhabit day after day.

I always have been an avid reader and my interests are varied and widespread. For example, currently I’m reading a book by Walter Brueggemann Out of Babylon that compares the Jewish exiles living under the domination system of Babylon to Christians in the U.S. living under  the domination system of American empire. Both try to answer the basic question How do we retain  our identity as Jews or Christians under the domination systems we are currently living under?   I’m  currently reading Breathing Under Water by Richard Rohr, which is about the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous applied to Christian spirituality. I just finished a biography of President George Herbert Walker Bush, The Power and the Destiny (a book on tape that was read to me, which was 625 pages in length), and another biography of John Newton, famous for his life as a slave trading sea captain and begin transformed by his conversion to Christ. He wrote the wonderful hymn Amazing Grace to describe that transformation. I’m now listening to a book on tape, The Indigenous Peoples of North America.

Besides books, I learn each day from people who visit me–my ministers, my family, my friends, my hospice team–They are all part of my classroom.

I learn from the media as they report and editorialize on the news of the day. Programs such as: PBS Newshour, Washington Week, CBS’s 60 Minutes and the morning and evening news programs.

I long ago crossed the threshold of learning because I had to do so (as at school) to learning because I loved to do so.  That is the true test of success for our educators  today.  It is “to enable children to emerge from schools with the life-long desire and love of learning, while having the tools to do so.

As students go back to classrooms this Autumn, I pray that teachers, administrators, board members and legislators keep this lofty goal always in their minds. We need to produce students who strive to and love to learn–not because it is necessary to pass some test, but because it is necessary to satisfy the craving to learn that is a trait of all people if it is not smothered out by those who are preparing them.

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Does God Care about Paris?

 Text: Exodus: 16: 2-15

 Theme: God Cares For us through human actions as well as God’s actions.

We are faced often with destructive events.   Some are man-made, such as terrorists attacks like the one in Paris this past Friday evening; mass shootings at schools and movie theatres and malls; shootings at the Baptist Church in Charleson, S.C. during a prayer meeting.   Some of the events are natural: such as tornadoes and hurricanes and earthquakes and tsunamis.   All are violent and lead to loss of life, pain and suffering for both the victims and those related to us.  

            The question that always emerges after any or all of these events occur is this one:   Does God Care?   They ask:   Why does God let such terrible things happen to his creation and to his creatures?   He is supposed to be a loving God, why does He let such things happen to people? Does God really care? (This question is often asked in an accusatory way that indicates—-“I don’t think so!”

            Human beings have been asking this question for a long time. In Old Testament times the man, Job, asked the same question of God. Job, who lost everything that he owned, and also his wife and children and Job laying in the dust, condemned by his fellow men as a great sinner, asked God the question in these words:   “I will say to God, Do not condemn me; let me know why you contend against me.   Does it seem good to you to oppress, to despise the work of your hands?”  (Job 10:3-4)

Do you care for me God? Job asks.

The same question was addressed to Jesus by his disciples in the 4th chapter of the gospel of Mark.   Jesus was in a boat with his disciples and a great storm came and the disciples feared for their lives.  Mark writes that Jesus was asleep in the boat on some cushions in the rear of the boat, where the tiller is that steers.   The disciples, in great fear, woke up Jesus with the words:   “Do you not care that we perish?” Jesus rebuked the wind and waves and an immediate calm came about—and he said to his disciples “Why are you afraid? Do you still not have faith?”   In other words—-don’t you know I am always with you?   Don’t you know that I care?   Why then be fearful?

 Does God Care?   That is essentially the question the grumbling Israelites asked Moses in the Wilderness as we read the text today from Exodus.

            The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness.   The Israelites said to them:   If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger!

What they were saying was:   You claim that God cares for us and told you to deliver us from slavery in Egypt, but at least there we had enough to eat.   God doesn’t really care about us. We’d have been better off as slaves in Egypt, rather than starving in the wilderness. Where is your God now, Moses? Does God care for us?   Prove it!!

 In response, God told Moses that he was going to “rain bread from Heaven” upon the people and cause quail to land among them.   “At twilight you shall eat meat, says God, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.”

God shows God’s care through his actions.   Through sending food to the Israelites God shows he cares—-with a resounding YES.

            But the Israelites missed the point—-as we read in Numbers—-they soon craved and preferred the “slave food” of Egypt over the “soul food” of the wilderness—the manna.   Listen to their complaint:

            We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at!”

Far from finding spiritual sustenance, they complained about gastronomic boredom!! They weren’t satisfied with God’s provision.   They wanted more variety.   They wanted to shop around a bit for a better menu.  

And that has been the history of God’s people for all time.  When it comes to what God gives us we say:   what else is on the menu—is that all?  

You see—God has provisioned us also.   He has let us know that He cares in many ways.   He has provided us with “manna of divine nourishment”—-we call it prayer, meditation, the Bible, worship services, communion, tithing, fellowship with our brothers and sisters—AND YET WE CONSIDER THESE PROVISIONS OF GOD WITH A “TAKE-IT-OR- LEAVE-IT-ATTITUDE’.   We say:   “Is that all?   I want something better. I want better music! I want a better preacher.  I want someone else to do the praying because I’m busy.  “I”!   “I!   “ME”!   “ME”!

In our market-driven culture, a market driven church has emerged, as Eugene Peterson put it in his book “The Jesus Way”:

            “The great American innovation in congregations is to turn them into a consumer enterprise….If we have a nation of consumers, obviously the quickest and most effective way to get people into our congregations is to identify what they want and offer it to them, satisfy their fantasies, promise them the moon; and recast the gospel in consumer terms, i.e.:   Entertainment, satisfaction, excitement, adventure, problem solving, whatever….” (p.6)

What Peterson is saying is that people now want to be spiritual CONSUMERS instead of DISCIPLES.

They come to worship looking for something tasty and exciting and sensational.   And if they don’t get it, or the service is bad, they will reduce the tip or not tip at all.   And if the worship menu doesn’t get better, they’ll stop visiting this particular spiritual restaurant altogether and patronize another one where the food, the service, and the ambience are more to their liking!

            THE POINT I’M MAKING IS THAT GOD CARES—-IT IS THE PEOPLE WHO DON’T RESPOND TO GOD’S CARE!!!   We thumb our nose at God as the Israelites did, and say—-is this the best you can do for us God?   Just the same old manna and quail, day after day!!!   Just the same old scripture and worship services every Sunday?

 But we continue to ask the same question, Does God care?    We asked that question when the planes hit the Twin Trade Towers in 1001—-we asked the question when Hurricane Katrina slammed into New Orleans and the Gulf Coast—-we asked the question when many were killed at a prayer meeting in Charleston, S.C.—-we asked the question when innocent children in a school were shot down like rabbits. We will hear the question asked again about the massacre in Paris last Friday. Does God care?   Why does God allow his people to suffer and die?    

            What we are saying is “if God cares God wouldn’t allow this to happen—but if we think rationally about that question, we know God doesn’t cause bad things to happen.   A loving God grieves with us, cries with us, and gives us strength to endure the bad things that happen—but never causes them.  

            God has created a world in which the laws of nature are so precise that we can fire a rocket and know that it will reach orbit and its destination at a specific time and place.   That’s how precise the so-called laws of nature are that God created.

            True, we know that God CAN intervene with nature.   Surely God has that power—the power of the Creator over his Creation. And yet, have you thought about what would happen if God granted each of our prayers and intervened with what we want in Creation? For example:Here is a farmer praying for rain so that his crop will grow, while two miles away another farmer is praying for dry weather to allow him to reap his crop.  Both, if they don’t get what they want question “Does God care about me and my problems?”

Perhaps the best answer to the question is that God allows evil to happen with its disastrous results just as God allows good to happen with its beautiful results. He does not control either. To do so would take away free will from his creation and we would be puppets pulled by God’s strings. God desires relationship with God’s creation and that can’t happen if God is pulling all the strings and we are just puppets jumping according  to his Will. God does not relate to us as puppets but as human beings he has created with free will in God’s image.    When human beings have free will, evil as well as good will result.  But God can take evil and use it for good, as the Bible points out in the story of Joseph.   God is in the world and with us at all times—-God is not some bearded and whitehaired being that is sitting on a throne in heaven, wherever that might be—-God is here—-with us.   Paul says:

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose….If God is for us, who can be against us?….Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?   (Note:   all of these the result of evil in the world) No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

THAT’S THE ANSWER:   God Cares for us. God loves us.   God is always with us.   Nothing can se[arate us from God.   God will provide.   God will be with us in Joys and in sorrows ; in times of Hope and times of Despair.   God is with us. Nothing can separate us from God —even the worst evils that befall human beings.  

God will not protect us from pain and suffering and death and destruction.   We will endure  pain and suffering because human beings have been created with free will—to do good, or to do evil.    When evil occurs God does not protect us from it but sends love and sustenance and his presence in our lives to help us endure what happens to us and our loved ones because of that evil in the world.      

God provides us with many sources of strength and comfort as we face the dangers of life on this earth. Let me name a few of them.

First, there are the scriptures that we can read and that can become a part of us so that they are food for our souls when we are in distress. For example:   Psalm 23: Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, thou art with me, thy rod and thy staff hey comfort me.”

As a pastor I have seen this many times as I walked through the valley with a dying patient—-saying this Psalm and seeing the patient’s lips speaking the words as I say them—-comfort!   God is there.   He cares.   His Word gives comfort to the dying and peace and comfort to heal the broken hearts of a family as they are reminded through the scriptures that their loved ones are not gone forever—that death is not “goodbye” as I like to say, but more like “see you later”. As Jesus said:   “In my father’s house are many rooms.   I go to prepare a place for you, and if I go, I will return again and take you to myself, that where I am you will be also.”

Yes God is with us through the Scriptures—-But we must read them and re-read them and make them a part of our lives.

Second. We find comfort and the care of God through the hymns that we sing each Sunday during worship services.   The old hymn “God Will Take Care of You” is an example—“be not dismayed, whate’er betide. God will take care of you.   Beneath his wings of love abide, God will take care of you”  “Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee.”   “Under His Wings, I am safely abiding. Tho’ the night deepens and tempests are wild.   Still, I can trust Him; I know He will keep me; He has redeemed me, and I am His Child”…But to find comfort in these hymns we must sing them in worship and let them become a vital part of our lives.   .   Here again, OUR RESPONSE to God’s comfort provided is vital.

And finally, we find comfort and care of God from other Christians.  Here is where WE fit into God’s plans.   Many is the time when I have been present at the visitation of one who has departed this life, when I see someone who has recently lost a loved one and knows the sorrow and pain the bereaved person is feeling—go up to that person and without a word, put their arms around them and cry with them.   And the grieving person is receiving God’s care and comfort through that person who holds them and cries with them.

 

One of the books I have read is titled “The Conspiracy of Compassion.”   Conspiracy means from the Latin “to breathe with”.   And Christian brothers and sisters as they show compassion are showing how God cares.   In hospice we called that “being present”.

God cares—God shows that care in many ways, including the three ways named above.    IT IS UP TO EACH OF US TO BE A PART OF THAT CARING AND TO RESPOND TO GOD.   As Jesus loved us and gave himself for us, so must we love one another and show the love to others that Jesus showed us was God’s love and care.

The Apostle John says it best:    Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action!” (I John 3)

 YES—GOD CARES!!   HOW ARE WE RESPONDING TO HIS LOVE AND CARE?   God has shown his care as he did with the Israelites in the wilderness—by God’s actions!! THE MANNA WAS HIS MESSAGE THAT HE CARED!

      For us:   the Bible, Prayer, Meditation, Communion Worship, and the ministrations of other fellow Christians to us—that is his Manna Message to us today that He cares for us. We must be open to receive the care that he sends us.   Amen.   

 

 

The Kansas “Herd”—the GOP, not Buffaloes

 

 

We Americans like to think of ourselves as “rugged individualists“, but in reality we are often like a “herd” that blindly follows the leader.   The problem of course with blindly following a leader  is that if the leader happens to be a “lemming” we will all be led over the cliff.

One of the lessons  I learned as a Park Ranger about directing traffic at the San Diego Wild Animal Park was that if you got a car to go in the right direction all of those behind that lead car would follow.   Sadly, the same thing was true if  the car went in the wrong direction!     The cars behind followed the car as it went in the wrong direction!

German philosopher Friederich Nietzsche had a name for that—“the herd mentality“.  He framed his philosophy of the ubermensch (the superman) on that premise—a strong leader could lead the masses in any direction that he desired and they would blindly follow—as the lead cow leads the herd.   That premise led to a further  premise that “might makes right” and that those who have the power decide what is right or wrong.    Adolph Hitler adopted this philosophy and proved it to be true, to the woe of the German nation that he led into World War II and disaster for their nation.

In Congress, the majority of the Republican Party exhibit a “herd mentality” as they blindly follow their leaders.  They do not consider the legislation they pass or defeat on any basis other than maintaining their power by re-election as they let the Tea Party and those who contribute to their campaign funds  tell them what to do.    Truth, morality, the common good, all suffer from this “herd” mentality when our law makers do not think for themselves.

This is what troubles me about politicians and their followers today, and specifically about Kansans who at present are being led into fiscal disaster by a leader and legislature that are convinced they are right, regardless of the facts,  and are using their power to decide what is right and good for everyone whether it is good or not for the common welfare.   And we just went through an election that proved Nietzsche correct, as Kansans blindly  re-elected them to another term, even though complaining that they had lied to them and that their situation financially and economically (except for the privileged businesses who received the tax breaks) was worse than when these politicians began their previous term.   Many Republican voters have confessed they voted Republican because that is the way they always have voted and regret that they elected these folk now.   But they are all in the same boat now—“lemmings ” following their leaders over the financial cliff for the benefit of an elimination of income taxes for around 100,000 “small businesses”, and are paying the price in reduced education funds, reduced programs for the most vulnerable of our state—the homeless, the children, the elderly.   Even Kansas roads are going to be full of potholes as the governor shifts funds to pay for an “experiment” in economics that has proven to be as unproductive and disastrious as most economists initially predicted it would be.

Recently I saw a poster on Face Book that speaks to this:    “Be careful when you blindly follow the masses.   Sometimes the “M” is silent!  

Live As Brothers or Perish as Fools

 

As we prepare to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day next Monday, I would like to share some words of his that we might ponder:

“One of the great liabilities of history is that all too many people fail to remain awake through great periods of social change.   Every society has its protectors of the status auo and its fraternities of the indifferent who are notorious for sleeping through revolutions.   But today our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and to face  the challenge of change.   The large house in which we live demands that we transform this world into a world-wide brotherhood.   Together we must learn to live like brothers or together we will perish as fools.”

The need for this has not changed since Dr. King departed this life but has grown even stronger as we live in a global society.   Are you listening U. S Congress and Senate?   Are you listening, Mr. President?   Are you listening Kansas state legislators?  Are you listening Gov. Brownback?   Or are you going to lead us to perish as fools?

Learn to live like brothers, or perish as fools!

Putting King’s words in a different way is this story, author unknown that was published in “Morning Story and Dilbert”.

The Cold Within

Six humans trapped by happenstance in black and bitter cold.   Each one possessed a stick of wood, or so the story’s told.  Their dying fire in need of logs, the first woman held hers back for on the faces around the fire, she noticed one was black.

The next man looking cross the way saw one not of his church, and couldn’t bring himself to give the fire his stick of birch.

The third man sat in tattered clothes, he gave his coat a hitch.  Why should his log be put to use to warm the idle rich?

The rich man just sat back and thought of the wealth, he had in store.  And how to keep what he had earned from these lazy poor.

The black man’s face bespoke revenge as the fire passed from his sight, for all he saw in his  stick of wood was a chance to spite the white.

And the last man of this forlorn group did naught except for gain.   Giving only to those who gave as how he played the game.   The logs held tight in death’s still hands was proof of human sin.   They didn’t die from the cold without, they died from the cold within.