No. The title of this post is not about the past five months without adding anything to this blog. (But it's ok if that what's you thought! ;-)
Actually, I'm thinking of how dry this winter has been for us out west. Much of the Colorado Rockies are only at about 50% of normal snow accumulation. Just a couple of weeks ago, it was much worse. That means that those of us who live downstream of the rivers and streams that originate in those mountains have a very dry summer to look forward to.
In the desert southwest, such as the Four Corners area where Farmington is, dry conditions are normal, of course. Part of that "normal," on the other hand, is receiving even small amounts of moisture from time to time. Just enough to keep dry from becoming parched, and parched from becoming "tinder box."
It is part of our rhythm of life, then, to experience how wonderful the blessing is to receive a little rain shower, or even a light snowfall. Since we cannot take it for granted, we cannot miss the fact that it might not have rained today at all. Therefore, this rain, whatever day it actually comes, is always a reminder of God's gracious care.
To describe this kind of blessed relief that God brings to those who have been suffering, Isaiah said, "For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water," (Isaiah 35:6-7 ESV).
These drought-relieving rains are an important way that God teaches us to know He really exists, and that He cares for us. As the apostle Paul told one of his early audiences, "Yet [God] did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness," (Acts 14:17 ESV).
While the clouds are gathering over us today, we are already thankful. God is so good.
Our state, New Mexico, is famous for--among other things--being the resting place of Billy The Kid. His legend represents a time our culture remembers as "wild," by which we usually mean lawless. The spacious freedom of the new American Republic combined with the spacious lands discovered through westward expansion to tempt people to think there was a similar spaciousness in moral standards. Far from established structures of law and order, it is no surprise that many people challenged the common sense of right and wrong in order to make fortunes for themselves.
In our own time, recent trends resurrect that sense that our American society is quickly losing the rule of law. In various ways, it is evident that too many people feel free to decide right and wrong for themselves, which often ends up injuring the rights and property of others. The riots in Charlottesville, VA just a couple of weeks ago are a case-in-point. This very week, while Hurricane Harvey ravages most of the population of south and east Texas, some lawless people literally took aim at firefighters who were trying to rescue people from the floods. Apparently, they preferred to protect their ability to loot the property of others rather than allow authorities to rescue people from danger. Of course, we can also talk about the relentless efforts on college campuses by some groups to prevent their opponents from speaking.
We could talk about the cities and states that refuse to enforce immigration laws, dubbing themselves "sanctuaries" for people in violation of immigration law. We could also discuss how normal it has become for politicians to break promises made to voters during their campaigns--very recently, Republican senators failed to repeal and replace "Obamacare," which was a promise that had a lot to do with their election to the congress. We could also talk about the trend of lawlessness in movies and television through which viewers fantasize about possible worlds we could live in. For example, Batman, in recent Hollywood productions, is identified as "The Dark Knight." That phrase implies the "situation ethics" axiom that sometimes a person must do evil in order to accomplish a "greater good."
Such lawlessness, of course, is not new to human history. It long precedes the infamously wild American West. It goes all the way back to the beginning of humankind. It is a tendency of the human condition to want to be able to "get away with it." "It" is whatever we have decided we want to do.
This tendency to lawlessness has always made it necessary to have law enforcement structures for societies. In the American West, this was the function of the Cavalry and of local sheriffs and judges. In early Israelite history recorded in the Bible, the people God had chosen as His own began to rebel against Him. This is expressed in one place as, "In those days, there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes," (Judges 17:6 ESV). This always led to terrible times for the Israelites, from which God would rescue them from time to time. God always hoped that they would learn their lesson and stop rebelling against what they knew was right.
Disciples of Jesus (that is, followers of Jesus, learning to be like him) resist this lawless trend primarily by being good, and faithfully doing what is right. This is especially powerful when those who observe our behavior know that we forfeit some advantage or profit by choosing to do the right thing. We could make the sale if we left out negative information, or skewed other information in order to maximize the appeal of what we are offering. But that is lying, and lying is not right. We are like every other person, and we get frustrated and angry about injustices in our society today. But Jesus teaches us to know the difference between hating evil and hating the evildoer. It is good to hate evil, and to work against evil by doing good. But it is always wrong to hate the person doing the evil. Rather, Jesus teaches us to love those who are our enemies, to desire what is good for them, and to work for that.
In the midst of a new wild, lawless America, our part as followers of Jesus is to stay within the bounds Jesus has set for that "narrow" path to our destination. He Himself has promised to help us, if we only let Him (read Matthew 11:28-30).
Being in New Mexico, we are heirs of the heritage of many early American pioneers. Thousands upon thousands of people left the relative comforts of the Eastern U. S. for the promise of open ranges, millions of acres of land for homesteading, and - of course - gold. In short, the pioneers braved miles of perilous country for the hope of a better life.
This is a rich metaphor for the life of Christians. There is nothing new about imagining Christian discipleship in terms of "the journey." The very first Christians borrowed the wilderness experience of the Israelites God brought out of Egypt (Hebrews 13:14). In fact, it is a traditionally American way to think about our adventures in this country, from the Pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock to the pioneers of the Santa Fe and Oregon trails.
In keeping with that tradition - in its Western U. S. form especially - this blog is about the adventure of discipleship today. The goal is to observe the world in which we live and to think about how the life and teachings of Jesus and his apostles call us to live within those circumstances. It is not about withdrawing from society or the culture in which we live. Rather, it is about living within it in distinctively Christian ways.
My hope is that these posts will be encouraging to those of us who want to follow Jesus in today's world. Also, for those who are not Jesus-followers I hope to provide a window into the mind of Lord Jesus, who leads us.
Check back soon!
Nathan Wheeler is the Pulpit Preacher for Eastside Church of Christ in Farmington, NM. Nathan is also a candidate for the PhD in Theology and Apologetics at Liberty University.