The Air We Breathe

It is time to break my silence.

My focus has been on ministry in our local church over the past several months. Therefore, I have resisted writing new posts.

However, I recently discovered a book—so relevant—that I have read it a second time and have encouraged my friends to check it out for themselves. Now I want to share the challenge on the Front Porch Swing.

The book, The Air We Breathe, by Glen Scrivener reveals that the values we all—both secular and religious—claim to believe in are the products of the influence of Christianity. We value freedom, kindness, progress, education, democracy, compassion and equality. We oppose slavery and seek to protect the physically and mentally challenged among us. We abhor the tragic results of Nazism and Communism. We believe that every person should be free to choose their religious belief—even atheism.

The preamble to the Declaration of Independence assumes that certain values are self-evident. That they are so obvious as to never be challenged. Consider these words:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

The preamble to the Constitution of the United States opens with the stated desire to pursue justice and tranquility and to promote the general welfare of every citizen.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

What profound thoughts from the minds and the pens of our founding fathers! Not all were practicing Christians, but each had been influenced by Christianity. It was the air they breathed.

But the question is, “Are these truths, these values, truly “self-evident?” Are they, or have they always been, obvious in other civilizations? Other constitutions?

No! A resounding “No!”

Not one ancient civilization or culture has ever held these values. In fact, most were constructed on the opposite. The mighty and powerful deserved to rule. The weaker deserved to be ruled and even abused. The Greeks philosophers did not offer true democracy. Only the elite, those privileged by the gods, had a voice in making and enforcing law.

 Pax Romana may have kept the peace but at what cost? Slaves and less” valuable” people served the powerful. Life, even that of a new born baby, was expendable at the whim of the powerful father or the emperor.

When did “everything” change? When did compassion for the weak become norm? When did every human life—women and children and other races—deserve equal protection and value under the law?

That is the point made by Glen Scrivener, author of The Air We Breathe.

Today, the Christian Church has fallen into respect in our secular culture. Sometimes, rightfully earned by those who call themselves Christ-followers. Our secular culture seeks to push us aside or to blame us for the social ills.

We may wonder if we need to apologize for something? For everything?

Let me share my response as influenced by this book:

Jesus, by example and words, brought light that exposed the evil darkness. His followers, nicknamed Christians by their critics, won the culture war through their unselfish, Christ-like lives. Unwanted babies were rescued from Roman garbage dumps and alleys. The sick and dying, during plagues, were cared for by Christians while the elite fled to safer ground. The bloody “entertainment” in the Coliseum ended through the influence of Christ-followers, sometimes at the expense of their own lives.

So, if you believe that women should be treated equally in the business place and honored in the home, thank Jesus.

If you believe the more vulnerable—the aged, infirm, mentally challenged or physically disabled—among us deserve protection under the law, thank Jesus. He honored women, blessed little children, touched lepers, healed blind and fed the hungry.

If you believe that a fetus, that has been diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome, deserves an opportunity to live, thank Jesus.

If you believe that no human being—regardless of race or gender—should be bought or sold for profit, thank Jesus.

If you enjoy the blessings of scientific research, thank Jesus.

If you’ve experienced compassionate medical treatment in a hospital, thank Jesus.

Jesus and influence of faithful Christians have created the air we breathe- the blessings we enjoy today.

Jesus and His followers, have transformed the world—changing the way things used to be-and have created a revolution that declares every human being is valuable because he or she bears the image of their Creator.

I strongly encourage you to check out the book: The Air We Breathe.

Let’s get some dialogue going here on the front porch.

Bruised Reeds

Last Sunday I preached at The Chapel in the Pines in Camp Sherman, Oregon. Envision a delightful congregation gathered in a quaint chapel surrounded by magnificent old growth ponderosa pine. Two refurbished railroad cars—once part of a logging camp—make up the chapel, with a large deck for outdoor seating. This was the third in a short series of messages about Elijah, a man the apostle James claimed was “just like us” (James 5:16).

Just like us? Just like me? Really, James? Most of the time, I don’t feel like Elijah at all. I’m not like the bold divine spokesman who stared down King Ahab, making bold prophecies about the weather. I don’t see any resemblance between myself and the Elijah who single-handedly challenged 450 prophets of the pagan god Baal to a throw down on top of Mt. Carmel.

But then again, I do somewhat identify with the wimpy prophet who ran like a scared rabbit from Queen Jezebel’s death threat. Remember the scene in 1 Kings 19? Elijah sprinted deep into the wilderness and cowered under a broom tree, praying for a quick death.

The bold man was now a broken man. The man of faith was hiding in fear. Now, that’s a bit more like me. Been there, done that, bought the tee-shirt. Groveling with guilt and failure tends to come naturally.

But let’s not focus on Elijah’s stunning collapse. Let’s consider God’s stunning response.

If I had been writing the story, I would have thought that a severe divine rebuke was in order here. “Hiding under a tree? Really, Elijah? What in the world has come over you? Where is your faith? What happened to the bold prophet? Suck it up, man. And get out from under that scrawny tree!”

But that’s not what happened here. Not at all.

Picking up the story in 1 Kings 19, I discover that God sent an angel into the boonies to care for His AWOL prophet. Note that Elijah was sleeping—bone-tired from the massive spiritual battle on Carmel and physically exhausted from sleep deprivation, lack of nourishment, and from running a fast 10k into the Negev. The angel “touched” Elijah— no brutal shaking—just a gentle nudge. When the angel spoke, there was no scolding. He simply said, “Arise and eat.” Freshly baked bread and cool water were on the menu that day. The angel let the prophet drop back into deep slumber, before awakening him later for another nourishing meal. I like to imagine the heavenly visitor sitting under the broom tree with Elijah, protecting him while he slept and dined.

Refreshed and renewed, the prophet was ready for a journey to Mount Horeb—and a close encounter with God Himself.

Secluded in a mountain cave and probably replaying the tapes of his failure, Elijah ignored the earthquake and the violent wind. But then a gentle whisper drew him out of his self-imposed prison. The conversation between the Lord and Elijah went like this:

“Elijah, what are you doing here?”

“…I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away” (1 Kings 19:9, 10, emphasis mine).

The conversation replayed a second time almost word for word—the words of a depleted man running for his life and struggling with his sense of failure. In the words of Isaiah 42:1-4 and of Matthew 12:15-21, Elijah would qualify as a “bruised reed” or a “smoldering wick.”

In those passages, both Isaiah and Matthew were applying them to the earthly ministry of Jesus. In other words, Jesus would show compassion for rejected, discouraged men and women.

Most people would ignore or simply trample a broken reed. What good is it? It’s worthless for weaving a basket, crafting a boat, or making a walking stick or parchment. And a flickering, smoldering lamp? There is no beauty or utility in that! You might say the same about broken and destitute people like Elijah. They tend to get overlooked—or worse—trampled by the strong in their rush to make it to the top of the heap.

Not so with Jesus. Our Lord took notice of the outcasts, devalued or scorned by the religious elites. I love Matthew’s description of our Lord: “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). That’s our God, isn’t it? This is the God who restored a broken prophet—and sent along a friend and companion named Elisha to walk with him. To the day of his passing, Elijah would never again have to face his foes alone. Never again would Elijah say, “I alone am left.”

We serve the God of the second half and the second chance. He heals broken reeds and trims smoldering lamps so they shine brightly again.

Listen again to His invitation to people like you and me: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

When the moment came for Elijah to exit the world, beamed up to heaven in a whirlwind, the prophet’s younger friend Elisha cried out, “My father! My father!” In God’s grace and kindness, they had become that close.

Could it be that you feel a little like an exhausted servant of God hiding under a bush today? A broken reed…a lamp that barely stays lit. Just remember we serve the same God who sought out Elijah in his lowest moment, gently restoring his strength and giving him back his will to run the race.

The God of the second chance. Hallelujah.