Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Mathare Valley Laughter

The Mathare Valley slum is an area of about three square miles in Nairobi, Kenya. About half a million people live in those three square miles. That is 50,000 more than live in the county in which I reside (which contains 341 square miles, by the way). 

They live in makeshift shacks of cardboard or discarded galvanized roofing. They live there without running water, without electricity, without sanitation facilities. But they do not live without laughter.

I visited Mathare on my first trip to Africa in 1985. Randy Beckloff took his uncle, Ken Beckloff, me and Bob Jollif to see an agricultural project he was operating in the valley.  As we walked into the valley dozens of children followed us. Many were trying to practice their English – words they had picked up here and there were strung together in ridiculous nonsense phrases. One I remember hearing was “Mister Sarg, kiss my grits.” 

Bob Jollif demonstrated a couple of simple “magic” tricks, and the children roared with laughter. At one point we saw a small group of boys kicking a home-made ball (a rag rolled up in a bundle). 

Yes, their life is difficult, yet somehow they manage to live, and some even manage to be happy. I heard as much laughter in the Mathare Valley as one commonly hears among many groups of suburban children who have running water, flush toilets, electricity, televisions, dishwashers, cell phones, designer jeans, ………………..
It has been more than thirty years since I walked through the Mathare Valley. But the laughter still haunts me.

But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. (1 Timothy 6:8, ESV)  

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

How We Decide or How We Work?

Viktor faced an incredibly difficult decision. It was early in 1940; Hitler had invaded Austria and was beginning to deport all the Jews. Viktor had been offered an immigration visa by the United States. But he could not take his father and mother with him. If he left, they would be sent to the camps, and at their age that meant certain death. If he stayed, perhaps he could keep them from being sent to the camps, or if they were sent he could go with them.

Viktor had, he believed, important work to do. He had ideas about mental health which he believed would help more people than the theories of Freud that were then so popular. So which should he choose, what he saw as his life’s work or caring for his parents?

Like Viktor Frankl, many of us face difficult choices. Sometimes we must choose between two things, neither of which is good. Then we ask, “Which is the lesser of the two evils?” Sometimes we must choose between two things, both of which are good. Then we ask, “Which is the greater good?” Sometimes we must choose between a multitude of possibilities. 

I have never discovered a sure-fire way to make these decisions, but I think that I have discovered something more important than the decision. The way we work is more important than the choice. Any good task diligently carried out is of great value, even if it turns out that it was not, in fact, the highest good. Sometimes the question is not so much, “Which is the better choice?”  It could well be that any of the choices will be just fine – provided that we work diligently at our task.

The odds are that at some point this week you will be faced with a choice of some kind, and perhaps it will be a difficult choice. Be honest, if it is a question of right and wrong, or of holy or unholy, choose the right and holy option. But if it is a choice between two good things, both of which could honor God, say a prayer, make your choice, and then get to work. Work diligently, faithfully, persistently. The question of how we work is often more important than the question of what work we choose to do.

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. (Colossians 3:23-24, ESV)

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Proof is in the Living

Many people, even many who consider themselves Christians (and are considered Christians by others) have not consciously chosen their approach to life. Too many have drifted into a way of looking at life that is not exactly Christian, nor purely materialistic, but is an odd combination of the two.

It always strikes me as strange that the world pictures Christians as folks who do not think. It has always seemed to me that it is the world (and the most worldly among the Christians) who are not thinking. It is the world that blindly adopts the values they find around them, without adequately questioning the basis of those values. But, sadly, we do see that behavior in a lot of (so-called) Christians.

What is your ultimate goal? Why is this your goal? Do your actions indicate that your stated goal is your real goal? Or are you claiming one goal while using most of your time, money, and intellect pursuing something else?

If someone tells you that he is a football fan, you will believe him of course. But if you later find that he spends considerably more time watching basketball than he does watching football, you might find reason to adjust your conclusion.

If someone tells you that he believes that he is an eternal being who will ultimately either spend eternity praising God in endless bliss, or will be bereft of God in eternal misery, you will believe him, I suppose. But if you later find that this person would rather spend his time in pursuing earthly wealth and pleasure than in serving God, it might be reasonable to adjust your conclusion.

If someone were to examine our priorities, the way we spend our time, our money, our energies, what would they reasonably conclude about our real values and beliefs?

It is an old question, but one well worth asking, “If we were arrested for being Christians, would there be enough evidence to convict us?”
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 7:21, ESV)  

Friday, April 8, 2016

Stamps-Baxter, Oats, and Good Health

It comes up occasionally. Someone will speak of Stamps-Baxter songs (usually in a condescending tone). The speaker will then be asked to name a few Stamps-Baxter songs. Without fail they will not be able to accurately do so. Instead they will name songs published by someone else, not by the Stamps-Baxter publishing group.

It is not a big deal, I guess; although it does make one think twice before believing anything else that person may say.

I like some Stamps-Baxter songs, such as “Let Me Live Close to Thee”, “He Bore It All”, and “I Love My Savior, Too”. These are good songs. We should sing them.

I like oats too. Oats are good for us - provided that we eat them within the context of a balanced diet. Oats three times a day seven days a week would not be so good. Different kinds of food are needed to maintain good health. This is true in terms of spiritual health as well as physical health.

Our primary spiritual feeding should come directly from the Bible. But the songs we sing and the conversation we engage in are important means of supplemental spiritual feeding. There should be no poison in our diet, no song and no conversation that is poisoning our soul with falsehood. All should be true. But even truth needs to be balanced truth. We need to sing different kinds of songs, read all parts of scripture, and engage in uplifting spiritual conversation on a variety of topics.

How balanced is our diet? Are we listening to the world far more than we listen to our fellow-believers? When we do converse with fellow-believers, is the conversation in keeping with Philippians 4:8? Do we think primarily on the things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and commendable?

How balanced is our diet? Do we sing the same songs over and over? Do we read the same scriptures repeatedly while neglecting other scriptures?

Here is my advice. Read scripture every day; and make sure that over the course of the year you read from all parts of scripture. Sing songs of praise and exhortation every day; and make sure that over the course of time various kinds of songs are included. Check over your conversation at the end of each day. How much of it was trivial, unspiritual, unholy?

Let us strive for a more balanced spiritual diet.