God and natural disasters

Of all the types of suffering we see in the world, sometimes the most difficult to comprehend is the tragedy of natural disasters. With the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, we are once again reminded that nature has the power to unleash unimaginable destruction, causing loss of life and suffering on a scale that’s difficult to comprehend.

You can’t help but feel a sense of helplessness when such disasters occur. Because their origin comes from this planet we call home, we all feel the sting when the earth convulses. And we wonder: Can we trust this life-giving sphere that is usually so good to us? It all seems rather capricious, especially when those who are least able to handle the terrestrial smack of earthquakes, typhoons, and floods are often hit the hardest.

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A Time for Mourning

Sorrow is underrated in our culture. We don’t like to be sorrowful and try to avoid it like the plague. When sorrow hits us and we truly feel regret for something we did, or we are grieving because of something that happened to us, our goal is to get past it and move forward as soon as possible. Nobody likes to live with sorrow. We would much rather have joy in our lives.

I've been doing some study in the book of James, and I ran across this startling verse: "Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom" (James 4:9). Talk about a buzzkill. What are we supposed to do with that. Our natural response is probably to ask “Why?”

Why would anybody want to deliberately stop laughing and start mourning? Isn’t laughter the best medicine and the perfect way to deal with our present troubles? Didn’t James himself say in the opening to his letter that we are to “count it all joy” when we encounter trials? Yes he did, but apparently James believes the path to that joy comes not through laughter, but through sorrow. It's taken me a while for this to sink in, but I think I know what he means.

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Principles and Preferences

While getting ready for church last Sunday morning, the first Sunday of 2011, I had the television tuned to Charles Stanley. Not Andy Stanley, Charles’ hip pastor son who is the envy of young ministry leaders everywhere, but the senior Stanley, with his ill-fitting hairpiece, and much-too-big suit.

You don’t get cool relevance from Charles. He’s strictly old school, which is to say he doesn’t coddle his audience by trying to make them feel like they’re at the center of the world. Like the apostle Paul, Charles Stanley is all about “Jesus Christ and him crucified.”

What caught my attention on this particular Sunday was Stanley’s insistence that the follower of Christ needs to be about principles, not preferences. This is very un-hip and very non-emergent, which is why it got my attention. Talking about principles is like talking about absolute truth, and everybody knows how irrelevant that is today. It just doesn’t fit with a culture that likes to have options and choices. In other words, preferences.

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What if WikiLeaks published my conversations?

This whole WikiLeaks business has a bunch of world leaders in a lather, and it's pretty interesting to watch. The private descriptions of various presidents, prime ministers and dictators are especially revealing and rather entertaining. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is called "feckless, vain and inneffictive as a modern European leader." Hamid Karzai is considered "an extremely weak man," Kim Jong Il (my favorite) is a "flabby old chap," and Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi is "just strange."

No doubt there is content in the WikiLeaks cables that could prove to be dangerous to national and world security, but so far most people (political leaders excluded) seem indifferent to the whole rather bizarre affair. Indeed, a public opinion poll is split 50/50 on the issue of whether WikiLeaks has the right to publish documents that could threaten national security.

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Preparing for His Arrival

One of the joys of Christmas is the arrival of special guests.  It may be a son or daughter, sister or brother who has been away at college or in the military.  It could be a favorite aunt or uncle who has flown in for the holidays.  Friends might be coming over to share a holiday dinner.  Whoever it is, you anticipate the arrival of your guests and prepare yourself and your home for their coming.  And finally, when you hear the doorbell or the knock on your door, you jump up, eager to welcome your loved ones into your hearts and home.

It’s that spirit and emotion that are at the heart of Advent, a way of celebrating Christmas that may be unfamiliar to some people.  You might be aware of Advent but don’t know a lot about what it means or what you’re supposed to do about it.

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Makoto Fujimura and the Sacred Language of Art

These days most Christians who are passionate about influencing the world focus on issues of social justice. Or maybe they develop an allegiance to certain types of theology. Very few people, it seems, turn their time and attention to the arts, and not just popular forms of art you so often see in music and film, but serious art like literature and painting that endure through the centuries.

Thankfully, there are a few people who are serious about their craft and who create art, not for art's sake, but for the sake of Christ and his Kingdom. In literature, Marilynne Robinson comes to mind. In the world of painting, no one shines brighter than Makoto Fujimura. Not only is Makoto one of the world's most highly regarded artists, but he is that rare breed of creative geniuses who has given his life to uniting artists with "Christ-centered spiritual direction."

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What the Chilean mine rescue teaches us about sin

Like the rest of the world, I was captivated by the impressive rescue of the Chilean miners trapped thousands of feet below the earth's surface for 69 days. In a world where a lot of these kinds of things often turn out badly, it was heartwarming to see a rescue plan that worked.

There are lots of angles on a story like this. The resiliance of the miners and their belief that they would be rescued. The resolve of the mining company and the Chilean government to get every man out alive. The unabashed joy of the rescuers and the families as the miners emerged on the surface one by one. All of these mini-dramas within the larger story made for great theater.

As I watched the drama unfold, I was happy for the miners, but I couldn't help but think about sin. Not the sin of the miners or anyone else involved in the story, but a metaphor for sin and how God has put together a rescue plan for each one of us.

Anne Rice is out, Katy Perry is in. Oh the humanity!

In the middle of all the hype and angst about Anne "Interview With a Vampire" Rice leaving Christianity, a new story has emerged, albeit with a little less fanfare. It seems as though Katy "I Kissed a Girl" Perry has decided to tell the world, "I'm still a Christian." Or at least that part of the world that read her recent interview, "Sex, God and Katy Perry," in Rolling Stone magazine.

Talk about a spiritual cage match made in, er, heaven. Wouldn't you just love to get the 68 year-old Rice--raised Catholic, turned atheist, Catholic again, and now somewhere in between--in a room with 25 year-old Perry--raised Pentecostal by tongue-speaking parents, not rejecting her faith, but not exactly serving as a wholesome role model for all of her music fans? Wonder what these two spiritual titans would say to each other? 

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Create Stuff That Lasts 500 Years

Makoto Fujimura, the world-renowned painter, has often referred to the "500-year question" when it comes to creating art. What he's asking is this: What would it mean if serious artists--painters, writers, sculptors, architects and the like--created stuff with the view in mind that their work could last 500 years? Would it change the way they paint, write, sculpt, and design? 

Before you answer that, think back 500 years from right now, to the year 1510. What kind of stuff was being created around that time (give or take a few years)? I did a brief search, and here's what I came up with:

  • Michaelangelo finished his masterpiece, David (1504)
  • DaVinci completed the Mona Lisa after working on it for four years (1503-1507)
  • Construction of St. Peter's Basillica in Rome began (1506)
  • Michaelangelo finished painting the Sistine Chapel after four years of work (1508-1512)
  • Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany (1517)
  • William Tyndale finished his English New Testament translation (1526)
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The man I met in the attic

My father died when I was four. I grew up never knowing much about him. My mother remarried a wonderful man who adopted me and loved me. I didn't have a burning desire to find out who my birth father was until my wife and I decided to visit Minnesota a few years ago to visit the place of my heritage. Maybe to find Dad.

I'll never forget the experience. Karin and I stayed with my father's older brother, Sam. As you can guess, it didn't take long for Uncle Sam to ask me if I wanted to see photos of Dad, as well as some letters he had written. I quickly agreed.

The three of us climbed up into his attic where all the stuff was stored in an old trunk. My uncle pulled the light on with a string, passing around fading photos, reading letters aloud, and listening to Uncle Sam tell story after story.

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Stan's entire life has been wrapped in content: selling, writing and publishing books and resources that help ordinary people capture a glimpse of extraordinary things.