Archive for May, 2010

I have been thinking recently about the seemingly growing mass of people who do things just to be noticed and known. The examples are so numerous that it is hard to decide which ones NOT to mention. Just think on some headlines over the last few months. Remember “Balloon Boy” and his parents scam to get attention by faking his accidental trip in a hot air balloon? How about “Baseball Taser Dude” who ran onto the field at a Phillies games after calling his dad and asking if it was a good idea? Then there was the copycat the next night. Add to that the countless people who still go on shows like Jerry Springer, or the whole Jon and Kate Plus Eight debacle. Then you have people who play to the paparazzi just to keep getting noticed; Lohan, Hilton, Kardashian, etc, etc. On the far more tragic side I was reminded recently that when Mark David Chapman shot John Lennon on a New York sidewalk the first thing he said was, “I shot John Lennon”. He wanted to be famous and the closest he could get was to be infamous.

So what is it about us that we have this growing need to be known, to the point that we do the ridiculous or even the tragic just to have our proverbial fifteen minutes of fame? I think at the heart of it all it goes back to the biblical story of Adam and Eve and our rebellion against God. Now before you get all distracted by the debate of whether or not Adam and Eve were real people, let’s skip past that to the lesson the story teaches regardless of the historicity of that couple. The point of the story is that human beings are in some sort of rebellion against God and this rebellion, known as sin, has had cosmos altering consequences. We have become alienated from God and from one another. That alienation has produced fear and insecurity, loneliness and shame.

You might be thinking, “Hey, we have always had alienation, fear, and insecurity. What’s different now?” What is different now is two-fold. First, there have always been other social institutions that helped us overcome our alienation and fulfill our need to belong and be known. Once upon a time the tribal group, or community, or family gave us a sense of security, identity, and purpose. We knew people and they knew us. Not simply in the informational sense of knowing, but in the deeper heart sense of knowing. It is more like the sense in Dutch and Afrikaans of “ken” as opposed to “weet”. Weet is informational knowledge, you know about something or someone. Ken is heart knowledge. It is what the Bible speaks of in 1 Corinthians 13:12 when it speaks of a longing for a new day “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” The more mobile we become, the more isolated we become behind our automatic garage doors that allow us to drive into our house without speaking to neighbors, the more we sit on the back porch and not the front stoop, the more we move from place to place and job to job, the more we run the risk of being isolated and alienated and yearning for connection.

The second factor is that on top of the human element there is the divine element. During the rise of the modern era and the commitment to science as having the answers to all our problems, we put God and spirituality on the shelf. We further isolated ourselves from the needs of our soul. Eventually people began to sense that modernism and science did not have all the answers and so an outbreak of being “spiritual” but not “religious” has been sweeping western culture. Why? Because we still have the deep inner need to be known and to know, especially by something or someone greater than ourselves.

In search of that need to be known, to be significant, those already mentioned and many others have taken a decidedly neurotic path. Others have taken a more reasonable and socially acceptable route. The rise in popularity of social media like Facebook or LinkedIn, is in part an attempt to stay connected or reconnect with people who are important to us. Such social media can be a great tool to keep and grow our relationships and give us a sense of place and belonging. Of course it can also fool us into thinking that we have deep and meaningful relationships just because people see our status updates and we have hundreds of friends, some of whom we have never met.

Ultimately all our efforts to connect with one another, to be known by one another, to feel like we are significant and that we matter, will fall woefully short if we do not address the root cause of that alienation. We are alienated from one another on a horizontal plane because we first became alienated on the vertical in our relationship with God. We can have all the human connections we want but until we are connected intimately with God, we will still be lacking and still looking for more. Blaise Pascal said it best; “We all have a God shaped vacuum in our soul that only He can fill”. When Paul wrote to the Corinthians about being known, he was speaking of the longing to be known by and to know God in as intimate a way as possible. All our searching for meaning, fame, security, belonging, and connection is at its core the result of a need to know that we are loved by God and to experience that love in deeper and deeper ways.

Yesterday I was interviewed by the Orlando Sentinel for an article looking at why some people take the risk of endangering themselves in order to save another person. It was a great opportunity to talk about Jesus command to love our neighbor. I hope you enjoy it. Here is the link: Ethics 101: How Do You Decide To Save a Life?

In a tragic and ironic twist a modern-day Good Samaritan is left to die on the side of the road instead of being helped by the people who pass him by. The phrase “Good Samaritan” has come down to us from a story told by Jesus. In the tale an unknown man is beaten and robbed and left for dead by his attackers. The story is found in The Gospel of Luke 10:25-37. As the man lay beaten on the side of the road he is ignored by a Levite and a Priest, two religious leaders. He is finally helped by a man from Samaria, our Good Samaritan. That Samaritan would normally have been an adversary at best and a sworn enemy at worst. However on this day he showed what it meant to love your neighbor and that was the point of Jesus story, to show us that whoever we come across who has a need is our neighbor.

Recently a woman was being attacked on a New York street. Coming to her rescue was Hugo Alfredo Tale-Yax. The woman was able to escape as a result of the Good Samaritan Mr. Tale-Yax. Tragically, during her rescue, Tale-Yax was stabbed several times. He collapsed on the sidewalk, bleeding. During the next hour and a half more than 25 people walked by him. They were all caught on camera as several even stopped and looked at him. At least one man leaned down and shook him but ran off when he saw the pool of blood on the sidewalk beneath his body. The whole time it is obvious from the film that our Good Samaritan was still alive. Eventually he bleed to death.

The story of this fallen hero is not unique and it is not isolated to New York City. Jesus was able to tell the Good Samaritan Parable and give it such a lasting impact because it is all too common, then and now, for people to ignore those in need even if they have to step around them to do so. What made this story particularly unique is that Tale-Yax had tried to break that cycle of personal isolationism by helping a woman in trouble. He refused to ignore the desperate plight of his “neighbor” and acted in a most Christ-like way. He gave his life, not for a friend, but for a person he had never before met.

The additional tragedy is that many will use what happened to our modern-day Good Samaritan as their justification for not getting involved. Rather than being motivated to act in the future because of the callous lack of action by two dozen people, many will pull further back into isolation. “You never know what is really going on and what may happen to you if you try to help”. “It’s best not to get involved”. “You need to think of yourself and your family first”. Certainly the priest and Levite in Jesus’ story used such statement for their own justification. For many of you it will sound wise and prudent to mind your own business and the death of Mr. Tale-Yax serves to reinforce that. My friends, that is an even bigger tragedy. That is evidence of a life lived in fear. Fear of what might happen. Fear of the cost. Fear of the unknown. Fear of hardship or struggle or danger.

Maybe Mr. Tale-Yaz should have ignored the woman being attacked. Maybe he should have crossed to the other side of the street. But what if the next day he read a headline that told of the death of a woman on that corner and of the man who crossed to the other side of the road refusing to help? What then? I suspect that he would have not been able to live with himself knowing that he could have saved her, even at risk to himself. I wonder what the two dozen people who passed by Mr. Tale-Yax felt when they saw not only the headlines, but the video of themselves passing him by? Would their fear from the previous day have been replaced by guilt and shame? Which do they now wish they lived with, the unknown repercussions of loving a neighbor or a lifetime of guilt?

Time and again the Bible calls us to “fear not”. Why? Because it says, “God is with us”. We are told that two people are better than one for if one struggles the other is there to help. When you walk in a relationship with God you are never alone. It doesn’t mean that nothing terrible or painful will never happen to you. It simply means that He is there with you to help you through it. That is all we need ask or hope for, that God be with us at all times to carry us through whatever comes our way. That includes sometimes doing hard things to help and love those around us. It is an effort to love your neighbor. It is sometimes dangerous. But it is extremely Christ-like. People used to have “WWJD” bracelets. It was a big fad for a time. “What Would Jesus Do?”. The answer is simply. He would love His neighbor no matter the cost, no matter the risk, no matter the danger.

Oh, one last thing. Don’t be the kind of person who reads this story, bemoans how bad the world is and who wrong those two dozen passers-by were, and then goes back to life in your little Christian bubble. The easiest thing in the world to do is point out what others should have done and then retire to our own safe haven, thinking we are fine and wonderful simply because we can see what someone else should have done. Why not go out your front door, look the left and the right and ask God what you can do to love your neighbor today. Loving your neighbor and taking a risk seldom requires putting your life at risk. Usually it just requires that we get up off the sofa and open our eyes.

Why do Christians continue to miss the point of why things happen in our lives? Why do we keep thinking that the best way for God to be honored and for people to want to follow Jesus is for us to be blessed with wealth, fame, and prestige? I ask this in light of the campaign being waged to restore wealth to Stephen Baldwin that he has apparently lost because he is following Jesus. A website called Restore Stephen Baldwin has been established in order to financially support him.

The thinking is that he is being left out of roles or declined roles, and thus he is loosing income because of his faith in Christ. So people in Hollywood are smirking and saying “so what good is it that you are following Jesus?” As a result they are mocking Stephen and mocking God. The people behind the website think that if Christians around the world sent money to help restore Stephen financially that this would be an amazing statement for the power of God.

What are they thinking? What about the Apostle Paul bringing glory to God by saying 10I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13I can do everything through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:10-13

We don’t only bring glory to God by being rich and powerful. In fact, we usually do not. Paul is saying that we bring glory to God by learning to be content no matter what situation we find ourselves in. How big a statement would it be to the people of Hollywood if they saw Stephen happier than ever even though he had less? What if they saw him at peace and content regardless of how much or how little he had? What if they saw his family actually be stronger in their relationships even though they no longer had big houses and expensive cars? I wonder what that would say about the power of God then?

Hollywood is called tinsel town for a reason. Most everything is fake and designed to be shiny for a season. But the seasons and the glitter don’t last. Faith in Jesus, contentment in Christ, finding your sufficiency in God alone, those things are lasting and these are the things that lead people to faith in Jesus. Every Hollywood star goes through a down time in life. What if they saw a peer who was actually content and secure in Christ and not the glitter?

Jesus doesn’t need Stephen Baldwin, you, or me to be rich and powerful. He needs us to be content in Him no matter what.