Thursday, September 21, 2017

September 21 - Matthew, Apostle, Evangelist, Beloved Outcast

Matthew had known desperation. That day he had been in the public square when Jesus came by. In his presence, he felt like he should hide his face from the teacher and healer of so many. Jesus had been healing and teaching some of the very same people that Matthew had been bilking out of even more of their precious little money. He avoided Jesus' eyes as he came by and his coin-purse felt a little heavier and a little more obvious than usual. It became apparent that Jesus was going to do a miracle and Matthew couldn't take it anymore. He turned to slip away in the crowd noticing the eyes of his fellow Jews that were glad to see Matthew leave. He was desperate to get away from Jesus before his shame ate him alive. Just as he was about to slip past the edge of the expectant crowd, he heard somebody call his name. He turned around to see Jesus looking at him with a knowing and somehow loving look. He noticed that everybody else was looking at him, too. Jesus said, "Come follow me." Matthew's heart could stand it no longer and agreed to give into the shame that broke through to repentance and healing. He walked through the death of his self and found life more abundant on the other side.

Yes, Matthew had known desperation. Jesus had been arrested and beaten severely. He had run like the rest of the twelve. They left their life-giving master so that they might not be expected to give up their lives. They didn't get it but Jesus forgave them. Matthew had heard and seen parts of the story and knew that Jesus had been crucified and had died. He met with the twelve--at least, most of them--to talk about what had happened and see if there was anything they were planning on doing. In the midst of his own desperation, he began to see what Jesus had been talking about. He started to get the revolution that Jesus was leading and the Kingdom that he had been bringing into the world. He began to see the fruits of repentance and the nature of the already present and still arriving Kingdom. Then, Jesus rose from the dead and it all clicked together. Once again, his life was changed in a desperate moment of calling and hope in the midst of hopelessness.

Matthew had known desperation. But as he hung upside down with the blood rushing to his head, he wasn't feeling shame or hopelessness. Rather, he was feeling love for those who had tied him to the post and forgiveness for the ruler who had ordered his execution. What did they expect him to do? Be quiet? Surely not after God had dwelt within him at Pentecost and called him to foreign lands to spread the good news that grace and mercy were redeeming the world. He had preached good news and, for its sake and the sake of his Lord, they had condemned him to death. He had brought people into life but those who dwelt in death resented it. As they piled the logs around him and the torches approached, he remembered his Lord forgiving his executioners and prayed for his own approaching murderers. This time, he found truth without the desperation or crisis. So even as the last few grains of his life fell through the hourglass, he understood what Jesus had meant when said, "Come, follow me." Matthew had followed his Lord by proclaiming a Gospel of life to the dead and healing to the sick.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

September 20 - Paul Chong Hasang, Martyr, Son of a Martyr, Missionary

Paul was the child of a powerful legacy. Growing up in Korea in a time that was hostile to Christians, Paul was only seven when his father and oldest brother were martyred on account of their faith. Paul's father had been one of the first Korean converts to Christianity and wrote the first Christian catechism in Korean. His father and brother refused to deny the Lord that had never denied them and this left a distinct and indelible mark upon Paul. They could not turn loose of their faith because their faith wouldn't let them go. Finally, it cost them their lives which they gave as a testament to the truth of their Gospel and love of their Lord.

Paul and his mother were spared execution and exiled into the rural parts of Korea in the Empire's desperate attempt to apply a tourniquet to the spread of the Faith. They hoped that the execution of some would give the survivors a fear to spread with them into exile. As is so often the case when the World hopes to stop the spread of the Faith, this only fanned the flames and the story that Paul and his mother carried with them was of valiant faith and unquenchable passion. Paul's mother raised Paul and his other siblings in the faith that their father and brother had died in the embrace of.

As Paul grew older he began to work for a government interpreter and travel with him to Beijing with some regularity. This gave Paul a particular set of opportunities that included speaking with the Chinese bishop and sending letters to the Pope through the bishop. His constant request was a plea for bishops and priests to be sent to Korea to provide leadership, teaching, and training. There was some hesitancy to do so because of Korea's stance toward the Faith they viewed as an infestation needing to be exterminated. However, much to Paul's relief and in answer to his prayers (and the prayers of many other Korean Christians) ministers were sent. They found Paul to be an eager student of theology and scripture and the bishop was prepared to ordain him to ministry when the Korean empire cracked down upon them and instigated a new wave of persecution.

Paul was drug before the judge and commanded to renounce his faith upon threat of execution. Echoing the voice of his father, brother, and countless other Christians, he provided a defense of his faith and continued to profess it to the judge. The judge was amazed at the clarity and passion in Paul's argument and admitted that it sounded to him that Paul was right but begged him simply to pretend to deny his faith so that his life might be spared and he might spread the faith he so loved. Paul refused because he knew well that denying his faith may grant him more days but it would not give him life. Instead, it would destroy any hope he had of offering life more abundant and free to those who sought it. So, Paul refused to deny his faith. The judge said, “You are right...but the king forbids this religion, it is your duty to renounce it.” Paul responded, “I have told you that I am a Christian, and will be one until my death.”

For this, Paul was tortured. He did not offer anger or malice to his torturers but instead proclaimed the good news that Jesus had died for them and been raised from the dead victorious over all things. They continued to torture him until he was crucified. He died 38 years after his father and joined them in their rest and comfort in the presence of God.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

September 19 - Rich Mullins, Singer, Songwriter, Kid Brother of Francis

Rich Mullins, the son of a mid-western farmer and his Quaker wife, was born in Indiana but traveled much throughout the course of his life. He attended Quaker services with regularity but his own spiritual pedigree is muddy at best--just how Rich would like it. He had connections to Quakers, Methodists, Baptists, and Roman Catholics among yet even more congregations. On more than one occasion, Rich advocated a certain kind of spiritual authenticity that seemed to make denominational divides and distinctions that once seemed so important and daunting to fade away into a kind of inconsequential haziness. Rich wanted to follow Jesus and didn't really care what that meant he was called or how others might identify him. At a very young age, his great-grandmother gave him a gift that he would spend the rest of his life giving to the world--she taught him to play piano and started his musical development. He took to it with a prodigious amount of natural talent and was an accompanist for a local, touring congregational choir. Rich attended several different schools while he studied music as a young adult but didn't stay in any one school for very long. It was always clear that his first passion was the Lord Jesus who loved him. It is his second passion for which he is best known: honest and soul-searching music that glorifies God.

Shortly after earning his B.A. in Music Education from Friends University in Wichita, Kansas, he moved to Tse Bonito, New Mexico, with his dear friend Mitch McVicker. He already had a remarkably successful career as both a singer and a songwriter. He had two hit songs that were fast becoming popular praise choruses and had released a few albums to much critical acclaim. After reading Brennan Manning's The Ragamuffin Gospel, Rich was so touched by the text that he named his new band "The Ragamuffin Band." They were in high demand in Christian music circles and it seemed that his career was set to "take off" even further. If this were the story of most men, then we'd expect to hear more of awards and material gains but Rich had moved to Tse Bonito to live on a Navajo reservation and teach music to the children that he met there. Though his performances were regularly sold out, Rich never accepted more than $24,000 a year as a salary. Instead, he gave over every check he received to his accountant. Rich's accountant paid Rich the salary of the average "working person" in the United States and gave the rest away as per Rich's instructions. Rich turned down the world's brand of success to follow after his Lord Jesus like his hero Francis of Assisi had done. Rich cast aside the world's gains because he recognized them for what they were: weights around his neck as he tried to ascend into God's presence.

Rich and Mitch McVicker were headed north on I-39 from Bloomington, Illinois, on September 19th in the year 1997. They were headed to a benefit concert in Wichita, Kansas. The jeep flipped for some uncertain reason and the two men were thrown from the vehicle as a tractor-trailer truck bore down upon their wrecked jeep. Both were badly injured from their wreck but Rich would be killed when the truck veered to one side to avoid the wrecked jeep and killed Rich instantly. Mitch was seriously injured but he survived the wreck. Rich died only days after having recorded an album on micro-cassette in an abandoned church. The Ragamuffin Band had been there and Rich had recorded it so that they could hear the ten songs that Rich wanted to include on the next album (entitled "The Jesus Record"). This final recording had none of the professional editing so common in music but still communicated the authenticity and passion that Rich had for God and for his music. Even though Rich died, the band went on to record "The Jesus Record" and release it not only with a copy of Rich's final recording but, also, with a tribute album where Rich's part was played by Christian musicians who had been friends and admirers of Rich. In the end, you can't help but wonder if Rich might not have preferred it that way--God getting the glory, his friends serving God, and Rich being allowed to hang on for the ride.

Monday, September 18, 2017

September 18 - Joseph of Cupertino, Healer, Monk, Ecstatic

Joseph's mother gave birth to him in a stable. She had been driven from her home because of the debts of her recently deceased husband. Joseph's father had been generous but not wealthy. He had guaranteed the debts of many of their poorer neighbors and when they had failed to pay, their debts became his debts. When he died unexpectedly, Joseph's family no longer had any means to support itself. Joseph's childhood was, at times, painful. He was not a good student and was given to staring vacantly into the distance. His teachers could not understand how Joseph could study and, yet, fail his exams. Looking back, it seems apparent that Joseph had some form of learning disability but at the time it was easier to call him ignorant and unsuitable for any profession that involved thinking.

It was Joseph's earnest desire to be a monk--even though he had been apprenticed to a cobbler--and so he applied to a monastery. He was rejected because of his apparent ignorance and inability to pay attention for longer periods of time. Undeterred, he applied to yet another monastery. They accepted him and tried to work with his difficulties at learning but ultimately dismissed him when they could not find a way to work around his challenges. Finally, he applied to the Franciscan monastery and was accepted. This was hardly an easy calling but the Franciscan brothers were willing to accept that he had a deep desire to live the life of prayer and devotion. They recognized a call upon Joseph's life that transcended intelligence or education.

Joseph was known for being given to moments of ecstasy and deep contemplation of the Lord he loved and followed. One gift only made him more unpopular with some: he seemed to be able to discern the hidden sin in a person's life. He would directly approach them and tell them that they smelled and needed to go be cleaned. He would then direct them to the confessional at the local church, chapel, or monastery. He was not allowed to hear confession or preside over masses because of his lack of education and knowledge but he was known for healing people who came to him seeking aid. His daily life soon became inundated with individuals recognizing holiness and calling in his life that his ignorance could not diminish. Joseph was far from intelligent but it didn't matter to the people who came near to him because he loved them and wanted to help them.

Joseph was pushed around throughout his life by people who thought they knew better than him because of their comparatively greater intelligence. His final years involved much travel because of the throngs of people who constantly came to him seeking his love and healing. Joseph was content to stay among them but his superiors moved him around because they detested the scenes that were created around him. When Joseph died among his brothers and sisters, he refused their request that he heal himself saying, "No! God forbid!" He, then, comforted them with soothing words before passing on to his eternal rest.