This past week Elizabeth Edwards and Tony Snow have put cancer into the headline consciousness of AmericaMarch 28th, 2007
This past week Elizabeth Edwards and Tony Snow have put cancer into the headline consciousness of America. The wife of presidential candidate, John Edwards, and the president’s chief Whitehouse spokesman, in separate dramatic announcements of recurring cancer, bravely exposed their private battles for health and life to the public. And as a consequence they both have raised the level of our national conversation regarding this shared and dreaded enemy. Talking heads on television and medical experts alike have weighed in on the conversation, assuring the rest of us that diagnoses such as these are no longer the irrevocable death sentence we once feared. At the same time, medical authorities seized the moment to remind the public of the vital necessity of physical examinations and screening, awareness of personal health warning signs, along with careful attention to moderating the excesses of the American lifestyle. And through it all, there has been the appropriate call to prayer for these two well known political figures and their families.
Within our own community of faith cancer is no stranger either. And because of that reality, it is well for us on occasion to brood over the meaning of so mortal an enemy. Naturally, cancer is neither a scourge from God nor an instrument of divine judgment. It is, as the apostle once ruminated, the consequence of “the creation subjected to futility” (Romans 8:20). And while some cancers have been linked to the western lifestyle, the fact remains that even the most health-conscious of individuals can contract the disease. For we live in a creation suffering under the scourge of sin. Which is why Paul was quick to humanize the suffering of nature itself with the words, “For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now,” until that day creation itself will be “delivered from the bondage of corruption” (vv 22, 21). Could it be that our very bodies themselves, from the minutest corpuscle to the largest of our organs, “groan” with the pangs of living out their days in this fallen system? For is not cancer the “futility” of a creation system gone awry in unchecked invading growth?
What hope is there for those who suffer, for all of us who live out our days on this fallen planet? “Even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. . . . But if we hope for what we do not see [and we have yet to see this mortal foe eradicated from the human experience], we eagerly wait for it with perseverance” (vv 23, 25).
Perseverance. And prayer. Because persevering in battling this mortal enemy of health with all our God-given powers is the right human response. And so is prayer—the crying out and groaning pangs of a heart and soul desperate for divine intervention. Persevering prayer. Because even nature’s “inevitable” course can be turned. Which is why for Elizabeth and Tony and all we know who suffer cancer’s battle our intercedings are made potent through Calvary’s power. After all, did not our Lord bear all our “sicknesses” (Isaiah 53:4 margin) to the cross? And is it not true that “by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5)? Then with persevering prayer let us press on together. And may it truly be “together.” For when one member of the body suffers, we all suffer. . . and shall continue to suffer until He comes, and Christ shall forever restore our creation to its primeval ideal once again. Amen.
Ever wonder where Iceland got its name?March 22nd, 2007
Ever wonder where Iceland got its name? Having just returned from this small volcanic crag amidst the wind-swept north Atlantic (just south of the Artic Circle), I don’t wonder any more! But did you know that this proud nation of glaciers, hot springs, geysers (a word we’ve borrowed from Icelandic), and active volcanoes is the world’s most literate population, with the world’s longest life expectancy and highest standard of living? And so you won’t be surprised that they are also the most “wired” (technologically savvy) nation on earth, as well.
But their achievements have come at history’s high price. Literature (not archaeology) suggests that Irish monks were the first to settle the island in the eighth and ninth centuries, quickly followed by Norse sailors from Norway. A colony eventually dug its roots into that rocky outcropping that became a base for Viking settlements, including Eric the Red (who discovered Greenland) and his son Leif Eriksson (the first European to reach North America). The Althing, the world’s oldest existing national assembly or parliament, was formed in Iceland in 930 A.D. But colonizing foreign powers from Norway to England to marauding pirates to Denmark subsequently made Iceland’s history one of struggling difficulty. In fact it wasn’t until 1944 that Iceland’s ties to the Danish crown were finally broken, and its proud people achieved their national independence.
The Lutheran Church is the official state church of Iceland, with 82.1% of the population (from the most recent census) indicating membership in that National Church of Iceland. The Icelandic reality, however, reflects western Europe’s postmodern secular culture with little interest in organized religion. And so this last weekend, after taking out a full-page ad in the Reykjavik newspaper, the Adventists of Iceland (around 500) rented a hotel conference room with the goal this time of reaching out to the churched public. And there I preached four lectures for both church and public. But the challenge remains for our western culture—how shall we engage the minds and hearts of our societies with the everlasting gospel? (Which, by the way, was the theme of an evangelism council for pastors across Europe that Russell Burrill and I lectured at this past Monday and Tuesday there on Iceland.)
Today we celebrate Calvary’s promise of symbolically transforming earth’s “iceland” into heaven’s “greenland” one day, when “the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever” (Revelation 11:15). And though that promise is yet future, its reality is truly present in the presence of Christ at His Table this morning. So may every heart take possession today of that freedom our Lord’s triumphant death has secured for all!
Wonder why the global markets have been gyrating lately?March 7th, 2007
Wonder why the global markets have been gyrating lately? The answer really isn’t that complicated at all. It has to do with public and investor confidence. When traders are feeling secure and confident about the economic and/or political future of their nation or other influential nations, they invest their clients’ capital in the markets. But when investors become worried or uncertain over developing trends (economic or political or sometimes even ecological), rather than purchasing shares in national or multinational corporations they instead sell off their clients’ stocks. And massive sell-offs fuel plunging stock markets, as we’ve witnessed in the global marketplace (from Shanghai to Wall Street) over the last two weeks.
And while economic theory is certainly more complicated than my simple rehearsal here, the fact remains that human confidence is the powerful variable that fluctuates our global markets.
Which begs the question: What is it that fuels your confidence and mine? What are our securities based upon? Let’s be honest. There are times—many for me—when the pit of our stomachs feels like the freefall of a roller coaster ride—just as scary as a stock market plunge! When there seems to be nothing to grab on to, when everything around you has gone over the edge with you. What then?
A friend gave me Derek Kidner’s inspiring two-volume commentary on the Psalms. And as I’ve been reading a psalm each morning, Kidner’s comments have helped me realize how incessant is the psalmist’s (usually David’s) cry for security, and how frequently he confesses that he has found but one saving confidence, one trustworthy security: “[God] only is my rock and my salvation; He is my defense; I shall not be greatly moved” (Psalm 62:2). And that from a man whose life story invented the word “roller coaster,” high and heady with his triumphs and plummeted by his defeats, a life the rest of us can find a modicum of comfort in today.
Which is why David’s confession of confidence in God alone segues into his passionate appeal to us: “Trust in Him at all times, you people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us” (v 8). Even when all we can pour out is, “God, I choose to trust You—have mercy on me”—over and over again. But as David’s gyrating life still testifies, He will (have mercy on us), even as we do (choose to trust him). And remember, when that inevitable edge does come, over which we must plunge, the good news remains, “ . . . underneath are the everlasting arms.”
“Study says lots of students narcissistic”March 1st, 2007
“Study says lots of students narcissistic”—that was the front page headline on my newspaper this week. Remember Narcissus from Greek mythology, who fell in love with his own reflection in the water pond? “Narcissistic” is to be just like him. Which is why the article begins: “Today’s college students are more narcissistic and self-centered than their predecessors, according to a comprehensive new study by five psychologists who worry that the trend could be harmful to personal relationships and American society.” (South Bend Tribune 2-27-07) This is the generation, researchers are observing, that was taught over and over, “You’re special.” These are the first fruits of the self esteem movement of the ‘80s. It is this generation that has invented “MySpace” and “YouTube” as expressions of its attention-seeking, the article goes on.
Coincidentally, I read the news report the day before flying down to Dallas this week for the first of it’s kind North American “Just Claim It!” event, a continental youth congress for prayer and mission. My assignments took me there for less than 24 hours, but I saw thousands of kids, from teenagers to young adults, along with their leaders, gathered together out of a passion for Christ and a desire to seize the moment and accelerate his mission into high gear. In fact, they’re still there this morning in that Dallas convention center.
What a refreshing and compelling contrast between those young adults in Dallas, our young adults here at Andrews, and the focus of this just released national study. While it’s true that young followers of Jesus are susceptible to the beckoning trends of society at large, I’m grateful to recognize that so many Christian Adventist young adults live with an “others centered” drive that overrides the “me first” tendencies of their generation (and ours as well).
After all, Jesus’ radical call short-circuits all our latent narcissism. “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and let her take up her cross and follow Me” (see Mark 8:34). It wasn’t the majority response of the 16,475 college students in this nationwide study. But may it be the majority response of every worshiper, young or old, that comes to follow Jesus today. For how else will this generation be the one to finish the mission of Christ on earth, than by following our self-sacrificing Savior?