A friend recently shared this poem by James Patrick Kinney, and I thought it fit for this cold weather. It paints a picture of how prejudice and pride (which come from within) hurt us and those around us. It reminds me about what Jesus said—“It is what comes from inside that defiles you.” (Mark 7:20)
Six humans trapped in happenstance
In dark and bitter cold,
Each one possessed a stick of wood,
Or so the story’s told.
The first woman held hers back
For of the faces around the fire,
She noticed one was black.
The next man looking across the way
Saw not one of his church,
And couldn’t bring himself to give
The fire his stick of birch.
The third one 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 the lazy, shiftless poor.
The black man’s face bespoke revenge
As the fire passed from sight,
For all he saw in his stick of wood
Was a chance to spite the white.
The last man of this forlorn group
Did naught except for gain,
Giving only to those who gave,
Was 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.
What’s the difference between a travel agent and a tour guide?
Donna O is a travel agent—and a good one, at that! She tells schools about where they might like to go. She finds the best plane tickets, restaurants, and hotels, and books them for you. You hand her money. She hands you an itinerary and tickets.
A tour guide has a very different job. The travel agent stays home; the tour guide gets on the bus and goes with you. He sees the same things you see and experiences the same things you do. He makes the trip better by pointing out the good stuff and warning you about the bad stuff. He goes with you.
Christians ought to think of themselves as tour guides. We walk with each other through this world. We point out the highs and the lows. We warn of danger in the road ahead, and give encouragement that hope is just around the corner. When our brothers and sisters are down, we’re down, too. When they rejoice, we rejoice. (Sound like Romans 12:15 to me!)
All too often, we are tempted to act more like travel agents. We tell people to come to church, get a ticket, and say we’ll meet you in heaven. You’re on your own until then.
Believers have fellowship with each other. That words means “sharing” or “partnership.” The idea is that we’re in it together! So let’s make sure that we’re more like tour guides and less like travel agents.
Back in the winter, I spent four Sundays at Burns focusing our attention solely on the life of Jesus. It was one of the most satisfying experiences in preaching I’ve had. Each week we used a harmony of the gospels to put together an extended (1-3 chapter) scripture reading that told the story of a part of Jesus’ life. The sermons were shortened to reflect on that scripture.
At some point in their lives, most Christians will wonder why it is that some prayers are answered and others seem to be ignored. Philip Yancey’s book, Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference, has a chapter called “Unanswered Prayer: Living with the Mystery.” He begins by considering the reasons that a prayer might not get a positive response:
Some, but not all, unanswered prayers trace back to a fault in the one who prays. Some, but not all, trace back to God’s mystifying respect for human freedom and refusal to coerce. Some, but not all, trace back to dark powers contending against God’s rule. Some, but not all, trace back to a planet marred with disease, violence, and the potential for tragic accident. How, then, can we make sense of any single experience of unanswered prayer?
We may never know why God says “yes” to some and “no” to others, but when I don’t get the response I want, I take comfort in realizing that I’m not alone.
Moses pled with God to enter the Promised Land, but his request was denied.
King David prayed for his infant son not to die, but he did.
Moses, Job, Jonah, and Elijah all prayed that they would die. Fortunately for us, God said no.
Habbakuk prayed for deliverance from the Babylonians.
Jeremiah prayed for Jerusalem not to be destroyed.
Paul prayed three times for the removal of the “thorn” in his flesh.
Jesus prayed that the cup would pass.
I know that it doesn’t feel good when we don’t get what we want, but we have to realize that God is God and we are not. John Baillie wrote that we should use our unanswered prayers and our pains as catalysts for something better. He learned to pray this way:
Let me use disappointment as material for patience.
Let me use success as material for thankfulness.
Let me use trouble as material for perseverance.
Let me use danger as material for courage.
Let me use reproach as material for long suffering.
Let me use praise as material for humility.
Let me use pleasures as material for temperance.
Let me use pain as material for endurance.
May we learn to trust that even when God says “no” – he is still good!
On Friday night, several of us gathered to watch Paper Clips, the story of Tennessee middle-schoolers who set out to create a Holocaust Memorial. During the project, several Holocaust survivors spoke about the atrocities committed by Hitler’s men. Sometimes it just seems hard to believe that a society could ever get to the point where this could happen.
Andy Andrews wrote a book called How to Kill 11 Million People. It set out to explain how something like this happened, and how it might could be prevented in the future. In the book, he quoted a German churchgoer:
We heard stories of what was happening to the Jews, but we tried to distance ourselves from it, because we felt, what could anyone do to stop it? Each Sunday morning, we would hear the train whistle blowing in the distance, then the wheels coming over the tracks. We became disturbed when we heard cries coming from the train as it passed by. We realized that it was carrying Jews like cattle in the cars! Week after week the whistle would blow. We dreaded to hear the sounds of those wheels because we knew that we would hear the cries of the Jews en route to a death camp. Their screams tormented us. We knew the time the train was coming and when we heard the whistle blow we began singing hymns. By the time the train came past our church, we were singing at the top of our voices. If we heard the screams, we sang more loudly and soon we heard them no more. Years have passed and no one talks about it now, but I still hear that train whistle in my sleep.
Edmund Burke wrote, “all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Or, in this case, sing louder.
If you want to do your part to make tomorrow better than today, you can’t pretend that nothing is wrong. You can’t cover up the “check engine light” with electrical tape. You can’t sing louder to drown out the cries of brokenness in your heart. You can’t ignore where society is jumping off the rails by simply hoping the train won’t derail. You need to take action.
Simply put, “nothing” is one of the worst things a disciple can do.