Saturday, March 3, 2018

Put People in their Proper Place

I tell you the truth,
today you will be with me in paradise (Luke 23:43).
(2nd of Jesus 7 last words on the cross)

The second of Jesus’ seven last words on the cross fully values individual human rights based on the Fatherhood of God. Seldom has humanity has more public press than today and never has there been more people feeling worthless, wasted, and unwanted. It seems emigrants are more denigrated emigrants and condemned to genocide, starvation, and social rejection than ever.

Waste management has become a situational problem. Pollution multiplies while we create new worries about our waste management. This second word from Jesus clarifies our paradox.

We foul our streams, lakes, marshes, and seas with every contaminant conceivable. We bury seven million scrapped cars and thirty million tons of waste paper. We annually dump forty-eight billion empty cans and twenty-eight billion bottles and jars. We stockpile another million tons of garbage daily for shipment, although conservationists complain that our seas are full of empty plastic containers.

While our air circles our globe forty times yearly we Americans singularly contribute one-hundred forty tons of pollutants: ninety million from our cars. We burn more gasoline than the rest of the world combined, fifteen million generated from electric power generation that totals one-third of the world’s usage.

Paul Ehrlich, Stanford Professor of population studies, claims our biggest problem is not our birthrate among the world’s poor but too many rich Americans. He claims one American does twenty to one hundred times more damage to the planet than one third world citizen and suggests one rich American does one-thousand times more damage.

Citing affluent Swedes as people Americans should emulate, Ehrlich early claimed an average Swedish citizen used only sixty percent as much energy as an average American consumer

Experts study the air San Diego deposits over the Pacific Ocean in layers of lead and predict Los Angeles smog will result in massive deaths at some future date. Noise already strains our lives while doubling in volume every decade. Fifty-five hundred new Americans are birthed every single day and by the end of the century this should add another one hundred million souls to our census by the end of the century, according to some reports.

Time has corrected much of Erhrich’s research, but we continue consuming and wasting more than any other nation on earth - flattening our hills, filling our bays, and blitzing our wildernesses while watching our quality of life slowly evaporate.

Like headstrong children, we disregard theorists like Ehrlich, calling them political conspiracists with unwanted political agendas. Blinded by our misgivings; we ignore ancient wisdom that suggests “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it. . .” (Psalm 24:1).

Forgetting that God has a profound interest in this garden he created for us; we throw off our constraints as responsible gardeners and take all we can get and reject any accountability as good stewards.

This word from Calvary projects a profound principal for a society that too easily ignores waste management and environmental issues but buries our culture in deep pessimism. This word from Jesus, spoken from one dying man to another, reveals life at both its best and worst. It collects our failures as it dredges the bottom of life’s heap, but it inspires new values and reveals new opportunities. It offers a promissory note of reclamation with a new beginning.

Jesus speaks hope to our depression and despondency. He promises a hope-filled future for converting anyone willing to discover how to live and how to die. He reveals a future owned by hope by providing a word of genesis that begins by creating new beginnings. Here are new possibilities for rediscovering lost living; here are promises for transforming people into winners--achievers. Here is an offer of a potential future that far exceeds all we currently comprehend. It pokes its way through history’s centuries-old curtain and gently heals this throwaway generation of unhealed humanity.

One day I traded-in a sack of empty pop cans but I kept the plasstic sack in my grocery cart. When I checked out, I proudly infsormed the grocery clerk of my conservation and informed her “You can use this sack to put some of my groceries in.”

“I’ll just give you a nice, new one that is good and strong,” she pleasantly admonished me and stuffed
my sack in the wastebasket. Without realizing it, she also stuffed me into that wastebasket!

My post-depression rearing recoiled with considerable angst. I was offended at this otherwise very nice young lady, I remembered days when my father worked gladly for twenty-five dollars a week and chided her with “You shouldn’t waste like that! … That was a perfectly good sack,”

Without being intentionally wasteful, we have become a throwaway culture and we remain oblivious to the truth that we trash even more people than our throwaway products. We provide profitable careers for garbage collectors that we keep busy managing our waste. Even more lucrative than collecting trash is dealing in junk. Many a junk dealer finds his treasures in our trash, while others entertain themselves during free times by attending garage sales.

While our communities concern themselves with developing new landfills, we vigorously campaign to keep them out of our neighborhoods and blatantly reject our own waste. A national news wire distributed this humorous and not at all amusing story of fifteen thousand tons of incinerated trash sent by barge to Panama by the city fathers of Philadelphia.

Panamanian officials cited health and environmental concerns and refused it permission for entry.  Five other nations rejected this trash originating in the city of brotherly love before American officials returned the debris to New York harbor and finally laid it to rest in a Long Island land fill.

Of course, it’s a very different matter when we refuse to permit landfills in our local communities for similar reasons. Thus, we pursue our frenetic lifestyle at the highest level of affluence in the history of civilization and escalate our struggle with the enemy within--our worst selves. Meantime; we deny the seriousness of our problem and insist that politicians store our radioactive wastes any place but in our neighborhood.

Simultaneously, Jesus provides principles for dealing with pollution and waste. He points us back to our primary priority--conserving people. Some people waste their lives by polluting the currents of human history and I have spent six decades watching people become throwaways by selfishly producing their share of a culture more concerned with self-serving than with caring for others.

We plan elaborate schemes for conserving our natural resources, like the towering California Redwoods, but we waste our human resources by devaluing human life and by denying people’s basic human rights. This word of Jesus from the cross condemns this extravagant waste as extravagant, self-serving, and sinful.

Nowhere is this “throwaway syndrome” more obvious than in our best of times when we throw out so much and value so little. Wasting our goods in the prosperity of affluence is one thing, but wasting our goods while impoverished does not happen carelessly or casually. It may happen in ignorance, but it may also be our fault that we are depleted and deprived.

Consider Typical Teen traveling the road of restless adolescence from Childrensville, New York to Adult City, California. Passing through our midlands, he falls into misfortune among thieves of moral character. His attackers strip him of moral principal, religious conviction, and physical health, and leave him wrapped in his naked notions of a non-relevant post-modern cynicism.

In the ensuing struggle, Typical Teen has his pockets picked clean of the dreams he collected, dreams he hoped to invest in achieving excellence. The thieves, after beating him without mercy, toss him aside, dumping him in the shadows of a sign reading, “Juvenile Delinquent.”

“What a shame!” exclaims Powerful Politician driving by in his limo. Seeing this wasted youth, he shakes his head in disgust, utterly dismayed. “How I thank you Lord, that young man is not one of my constituents. Help me to get to my press conference without creating an accident.” And lest he be late; he hurries on, passing on the opposite side of the Beltway. He is determined to produce effective legislation for curbing poverty and abuse

Powerful Politician later described to members of his powerful committee the abundance of what he saw on his recent trip and asked them for their support in correcting such social problems.

Likewise, Certain Citizen happened by the same place at a later time. He, too, saw the ugly problem and exuded more than a little passion. Under his breath he growled to himself, “What in God’s name are these kids coming to!”

Losing strength in the meantime, Stricken Lad attempts a feeble recovery, hopeless and helpless. Noting the time and knowing he had pressing corporate issues just ahead, Certain Citizen passes quickly on the opposite side. But, he did not forget. Completing his Board business and the negotiations for a highly profitable but hostile takeover, he concluded his trip with lunch at his local Service Club. While there, he petitioned the Program Committee Chair to plan a program on “How to Obtain Federal Funds for Communities with Adolescent Delinquents Facing Problems of Poverty and Abuse.”

But unknown Youth Pastor also traveled this road.  He saw this useless youth; saw that all hope was quickly draining from the tormented victim and felt overwhelmed. Parking his car on the shoulder of the road, he bound up the worst of the wounds and freely smeared oils of love across the dark bruises. He placed the victim in his softly-padded car and drove directly to the church’s Youth Barn where many friends --young and old--gave him loving care and rehabilitating friendship. In the days following, Friend of Youth led church associates and others in establishing a Center for troubled youth.

Which of these do you think was a neighbor to the one who fell among thieves?” Jesus asked. “The one who showed mercy,” came the reply, to which Jesus concluded, “You go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37).

Now; it should come as no surprise to hear Jesus challenge Peter, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah … I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build” (Matthew 16:17-19). Jesus saw the rock of a man Peter could become, but it looked for a long time as if Jesus might be wrong about the big fisherman. This dormant disciple was big, brawny, and brash, able to handle a fishing net filled beyond capacity, but vacillating, weak, and even cowardly.

Peter could swing a mean sword when necessary to defend Jesus, but he didn’t know when to stop bragging or how to defend himself against ridicule. He could talk a bigger game than he played, but when arrested he forgot his stouthearted brags. Following those terrifying events, Peter cringed in the darkening fringes, cowering in the dark.

A young servant girl recognized Peter, pointed him out and he vehemently denied Jesus. Wilting under that youthful gaze of an innocent servant, he quailed then exploded with oaths and curses understood by all. Without purpose after the crucifixion, Peter aimlessly returned to his fishing nets and had a final fling of defiance against the niggling aspirations, dreams, and hopes that had fortified him. Just when Peter’s quest for a better life promised some right answers, life unraveled at the seams.

NOW; look again! Peter stands once more in the Jerusalem Temple Courtyard. It is fifty days later and Jerusalem celebrates the Feast of Pentecost. Local residents and holiday visitors pilgrimage together renewing their historic faith. Luke reports what happened when Peter saw and stood to address the crowd.

           ‘Fellow Jews … let me explain … listen carefully … These men 
            are not drunk … `It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what 
            was spoke of by the prophet Joel: In the last days, God says, I 
            will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters
            … your young men … your old men … Even on my servants,
            both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit … And
            everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. 

            “Men of Israel listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man 
            accredited by God to you … as you yourselves know. This
            man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and fore-
           knowledge; and you … put him to death by nailing him to the
           cross. But God raised him from the dead … because it was
            impossible for death to keep its hold on him” (Acts 2:14-24).

Luke obviously reports a very different Peter than we met earlier. Peter now assumes preeminence in the Jerusalem church. He stands like a solid rock, fear-lessly facing hostile authorities. This stalwart leader models a role of faithfulness for the small, growing band of believers and we see a man of character and spiritual competence whose shadow inspires healing. Meanwhile, he and the disciples continue “testifying to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 4:33).

Peter commands full attention during Luke’s first twelve chapters of Acts. After that, Peter quietly fades off-stage and into the wings and Paul commands center stage as Luke traces the Gentile mission throughout the remaining chapters.
            “You are known as…” Jesus had concluded; you shall be called a
            rock of a man. Jesus spoke a more powerful word than we
            sometimes believe and somewhere on the journey with Jesus Peter
            found strength for thet day and hope for the day following. Jesus
            was right!

Life dispassionately dropped Tad into a Jerusalem ghetto. Tad’s father was an alcoholic; his mother was a prostitute. After years of disagreeable quarrels, Tad’s parents divorced. Finding life too much to cope with, Tad began skipping school; life at home became impossible, school demanded too much.

Finally Tad surrendered to the neighborhood Cripps Gang and showed up on local police radar. Police observed him leaving an abandoned school building, they arrested him and charged him with breaking-and-entering. The School Principal suspended him while the courts placed him on probation.

Tad now hired on to work for the father of a fellow gang members. This earned him the one thing he always lacked, money. However, Tad found the hours too demanding and the rewards too limited for his growing list of demands. He found people inexcusably unforgiving. They continually reminded him he would never amount to anything and this Tad just did not need; he already knew it.

However, being more than a little feisty, Tad remained ever-ready to assert his personal rights. When necessary for survival, Tad did not hesitate to give you a healthy dose of his opinion. He randomly reminded his companions of the many sour lemons life handed him.

Since no one had ever taken care of Tad, he didn’t really know he needed anyone. After all; he was just as smart as the next guy. He knew he could get what he wanted, somehow. So Tad, like the boy whose career in crime began by stealing an apple at the fruit stand and ended by sitting in the electric chair, began keeping company with thieves, was apprehended and sentenced to prison.

Tad’s electric chair became his cross when he was sentenced to hang beside a prisoner the rumor mills claimed was full of the Devil. Obviously, the man was out of touch with reality, allegedly going about casting out devils - a “real nut” and thoroughly paranoid. Officials charged him with delusions of grandeur and preaching a celestial kingdom and calling himself God’s Son.

You run into all kinds in life’s marketplace of life; yet when Tad met this stranger, he learned of his own personal worth and of divine generosity for the first time in his life. He sensed this stranger was unlike so many he had met along the way; this man was much more than a frail, broken failure of a man, cynically resigned to a life of ruin and waste. Tad saw Jesus as a man among men, not intimidated by his cross, but vigorously fortified by a vision of excellence and integrity. Here was someone who cared for Tad and sincerely dared believe, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).

Tad heard Jesus speak as from one dying man to another. Tad, having faith in no one but himself and little of that above the level of a common thief, suddenly found himself eye-balling a dying man in whom the judges found no fault. Although this strange prophet was also dying, he was overheard to claim he was “the way and the truth and the life.”  It lit a fire in Tad’s heart that inspired him to take heart (John 14:6).

The word Jesus spoke to the dying thief elevates three essentials of faith by which to live; power by which to achieve our “you will be…” and, the very real hope of experiencing a happy and healthy tomorrow.

London’s noted Spurgeon insisted a little faith will take someone to heaven. A little more faith will bring heaven to us. This margin of faith is found only in the words of this Jesus on his Calvary cross.

Paul discovered what Peter experienced earlier and he went to Asia and Europe proclaiming the truth that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself (2 Corinthians 5:19). Each man agreed it was God who empowered the resurrection of Jesus from the Good Friday tomb. Like other converts, they found this powerful hope sufficient to transform their lives and adequately lift any individual out of any kind of garbage heap into which society might dump them. The only requirement was to accept it: give up self sufficiency, and live life as an offering to God. 

This word from Jesus challenges us to resist being squeezed back into the old mold that proved so destructive. It allows God to energize us with new life within and to reach new levels of excellence. Little hope remains for the legalist who, like the Pharisee, prays, “Thank you, God, that I am not as other men.” Conversely, hope owns the future when we can pray like the Publican, “Have mercy on me, a sinner” (Luke 18:11, 13).

Ancient Wiseman knew of a way that seems quite right but becomes so wrong (Proverbs 14:12). That first thief knew he belonged on the cross. His circumstances were his fault, even if he was convinced that life was unfair. On the other hand, the second victim realized Jesus was innocent in dying. The absurdity of this thief’s own error-filled journey was painfully obvious.

Jesus came to his cross fully innocent. His most pressing fault was declaring God’s sovereignty over a humanity preoccupied with serving itself.  His response-ability to God within the boundaries of his own freedom of choice challenged humanity’s insistence of being without obligation. In examining the quality of life through the life of Jesus, Paul concluded, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5).

The real glory of Jesus revealed [revelation] God’s divine generosity with utter assurance (John 17:3-5). Nothing can separate us from the love God demonstrated through Jesus (Romans 8:38). In being made right with God (i.e., reconciled through Christ), Paul found that we experience new peace and increased power (Romans 15:1-8). We can become all God intends for us to become (John 14:27).

To live in Christ, suggested Paul, we must walk with Christ. When we walk with our hope in Christ; we discover what Paul already knew: hope owns our future, our past, and our present. Early church Fathers taught that God formed us, sin deformed us, and Christ alone transformed us. In expressing this spiritual minimum-wage law, Paul’s letters reveal God’s justice tempered with love and mercy (Romans 6:23; John 5:24-29; I Thessalonians 4:16-18).

The thief on the cross had the one quality that qualified him as a candidate for faith in Christ; i.e. he offered no self-justification for his failures. He went home with the Father’s blessings simply because it is “the pure in heart” that “see God” (Matthew 5:8).

It takes a man with a good heart to show an evil man the folly of his way. It takes someone at the end of his own rope of self-justification, someone with enough integrity to confess his own internal chaos, someone that will willingly act on that truth and allow it to operate freely within.

If a good man can come to nothing for the sake of his brothers and sisters, surely a lesser man can improve and become a little better by accepting the example. It is this internal change that we recognize as the new birth, which Jesus described to Nicodemus (John 3). This internalized transformation releases the now-redeemed person from the old launch-pad of self-service and launches them into the new orbit of living for others, transformed by focusing on Christ and rotating one’s life around hm.

The dying thief lacked the necessary time to grow into a man of good culture and character, because it had taken him his lifetime to discover what he needed to know about Jesus and his power-to-become. Jesus was providing power long before the thief ever encountered it. The multitude overlooking the Sea of Galilee heard it proclaimed by Jesus in a hillside sermon.

             “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” 
            Jesus had announced--they no longer insist on justifyin

With no one to blame but himself, this dying thief now discovered new hope. He settled for a deathbed peace that brought a personal conviction of a meaningful tomorrow. It came with a full guarantee. It introduced the One making the promise and resulted in a passionate peace that freed Jesus to experience his death more concerned about other people than about himself.

When the Psalmist sat on that ancient hillside tending his sheep long ago, he recognized

            O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know 
            when I sit and when I rise: you perceive my thoughts from afar.
            You discern my going out and my lying down: you are familiar
            with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it
            completely, O Lord (Psalm 139:1-4).

This second word from the cross of Jesus promises hope, as it confronts the life we know and offers renewed faith in our human worth. It renews spiritual throwaways; it offers a personal and satisfying walk with God. Paul summarized it and concluded “God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (I Corinthians 10:13).

I have the lines of John H. Finley taped on my refrigerator door to remind me of Jesus:

Sought by the greatest and the least as friend
He gave himself, unsparing, to the end;
He even kept death waiting at the door
Till he could do a friend one kindness more.

This promise of power-to-become provides a fitting conclusion from the cross by promising security beyond life that remains as certain as death itself and guaranteed throughout eternity.

This is affirming that 
      God acting as Eternal Steward, became the Great Ecologist, 
      ever seeking to conserve everything of value. Acting as Divine
      Watchman, God dumps no one on the trash heap of life. He
      remains busy as he can be, recreating and transforming new
      treasures from old lives cheapened and trashed
            (revised from chapter three CONCLUSIONS FROM THE CROSS).

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