Wednesday, August 24, 2016

A Thought for Wednesday 24 August 2016

“The angel answered Mary, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God’.”  Luke 1:34-35 NKJV

After Tuesday evening prayers, the first thing I do on Wednesday when I come to the church is to refill the candles with oil in preparation for Sunday worship.  There are all kinds of things going through my mind while doing this; sometimes idle thoughts, sometimes prayerful thoughts, plans, things to do, etc.  Sometimes I’m surprised by what thoughts may cross my mind, and this morning was no exception.

I realize this particular portion of Scripture is out of season, but a sermon title crossed my mind (although it may be Advent before it comes): “Ricky Bobby and the Incarnation”.  Now for those of you who do not share my juvenile sense of humor and taste for the irreverent, there is a movie entitled, “Talladega Nights: the Legend of Ricky Bobby”.  Ricky becomes a successful NASCAR driver and soon has more money than he knows what to do with.  At family meals, he prays in this way, “Dear Lord baby Jesus, with your golden fleece diapers …”  Constantly he refers to the “baby” Jesus!  Soon his wife challenges him: “Jesus did grow up”.  Ricky shoots back, “I like the Christmas Jesus!”

Like the title says, just “a thought”.

No matter how silly it all sounds (and it does in the movie!), there is a ring of truth to the sentiment; many prefer the Christmas Jesus over the One who grew up and began preaching and teaching. And why not?  Babies are not hard to understand.  They eat, they cry, they make muddy diapers.  There is a lot to take in with a baby, possibilities we cannot begin to imagine!  But Jesus did grow up, and the Word began to spread.  Often that Word contradicted what others had already made up in their own minds.  And because the Word was dressed like a common man, it was difficult for the scribes and the Pharisees to take the Word seriously even though our Lord’s direct quotes came from the Torah, the whole of the First Testament, and even what is today referred to as Talmud; as St. John writes, “The Word became flesh”.  Jesus was well versed in the Scriptures and the traditional interpretations because He is the Word!

It soon became clear that human interpretations of the Word, even with the best of intentions, can often miss the mark – especially when we declare absolutes in our own interpretations.  There was plenty of piety (religious uprightness) among the religious authorities, but righteousness was not well understood nor humility practiced.  “Love your neighbor as yourself” soon came to be directly related to loving The Lord with all we have and with all we are.  Long story short, the grown-up Jesus became a real pain to the religious authorities who had already decided for themselves that the Divine Law was theirs to enforce but not necessarily to live themselves.  Not only was the Roman burden too much to bear for the common man, but the religious burden imposed upon them by the teachers of Israel overwhelmed them.  The two became one and the same.

The grown-up Jesus broke every legal mold without actually doing away with the Law.  The Law soon became “The Way and the Truth and the Life” into which we are all invited, the “grace upon grace” which The Lord’s people are offered in that same Law. 

Without a doubt, sometimes we Christians oversimply that Law to the point that it is rendered meaningless.  At other times we make the Law so rigid and burdensome that it is rendered impossible to live faithfully.  So somewhere between the Baby Jesus and the Pharisees, we find the rest and comfort of the Eternal Word; the very Word the Pharisees tried to destroy but discovered soon enough the Word which will endure “though the heavens and the earth may fade”.

There is clear “right and wrong” in the Word, and the King of all creation does have a Law; but this Law is not strictly about what we cannot do.  It is more about what becomes possible when we all live according to the Word; and frankly, it is all theoretical until we actually get around to doing it. 

The Babe in the Manger required gentle care as all babies do.  The Eternal Word requires no less care because it is no less precious in our hands and in our lives.

The Lord is great, is He not?

Michael     

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

When the Weeping Ends

Isaiah 65:17-25
Philippians 3:10-21
John 14:1-14

“Whenever men and women straighten their backs up, they are going somewhere because no one can ride your back unless it is bent.”  MLK, “I have been to the mountaintop”, 3 April 1968

When Dr. King addressed the people of Memphis during the sanitation workers’ strike in his famous “Mountaintop” speech, he used the parable of the Good Samaritan to make his point that it had become necessary for the greater society to look up from its collective navel gazing and see what is happening in their world to their neighbors; to recognize that the well-being of others is the well-being of The Church AND society.  Dr. King affirmed the biblical Truth that there are no short-cuts; that there is truly only ONE WAY.

He spoke of the priest and the Levite of the parable, both refusing to stop and help the man who had been robbed, beaten, and left for dead.  Maybe they were late for meetings or some other such religious duty that may have distracted them, but Dr. King finally settled for what is probably most true for each of them in thinking: If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me

Yet when the Samaritan happened along, he gave no thought to the potential threats that frightened off those religious men.  Rather than to concern himself with any personal risk, the Samaritan considered the point Jesus was making: If I do not help this man, what will happen to him?; this being the fullness of what it means to “love one’s neighbor as oneself”.  That is, what we hope for ourselves we must see to for those in distress.

Dr. King delivered his “mountaintop” speech on 3 April 1968.  He was assassinated the next day.  Many have wondered if there was something prophetic in Dr. King’s “mountaintop” vision when he ended his speech with these words:  “Like anybody, I would like to live a long life.  Longevity has its place.  But I'm not concerned about that now.  I just want to do God's will.  And He's allowed me to go up to the mountaintop.  And I've looked over.  And I've seen the Promised Land.  I may not get there with you.  But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land”.

Whether Dr. King was speaking of the Promised Land in terms of the fair treatment of the sanitation workers’ grievances … or the fulfillment of the 1965 Civil Rights Act … or of his own impending death … or of the full coming of the Kingdom of Heaven is pure speculation.  Yet there is an undeniable reality within Dr. King’s words that should ring true with every Christian who has witnessed the Revelation of The Lord and the Life and Death of Christ Jesus in our own baptism and rebirth: we, too, have looked over the mountaintop, and we, too, have seen for ourselves through the written Word and the witness of the Spirit the Promised Land which is to come.

Yet many of us live in the here-and-now.  Many of us live as though what we can acquire for ourselves in this life is all the Promise we will ever see even though we profess faith in Christ.  Many of us live by sight rather than by faith, and it is robbing us of the True Vision Jesus offered to His disciples.  It is robbing us of the Hope that is the Everlasting Kingdom, the Promised Land truly flowing with milk and honey and with rivers of living water; the Place where there will be no more sorrow and no more tears. 

In this life, however, in living by sight we are doing our level best to avoid tears; failing to realize our neighbors’ tears are our own tears.  We must suffer the loss of loved ones as our neighbors do.  We must suffer the brutality of injustice as our neighbors do. 

We live in a world soaked with tears, from which we must never turn our backs.  These tears are unavoidable consequences of a world doing its level best to run away from The Lord in search of their own fulfillment on their own terms.  These tears are shed by the many who, in a vain search and shallow quest to fill a void in the pit of their souls, jump from one worldly pleasure to another, from one drug to another, from one drink to another, from one bed partner to another; discovering in each one the emptiness that comes from settling for fleeting pleasures of false promises.  And almost without exception, these tears come from the spiritual and emotional pain of having settled for less than what The Lord desires for His people.

The Kingdom of Israel suffered from living in and trying to be an integral part of such a world.  In spite of their disobedience, however, the Holy One offered His vision to His prophet Isaiah to call out to The Lord’s people: “I was ready to be sought out by those who did not ask; to be found by those who did not seek Me.  I said, ‘Here I am, here I am!’ to a nation that did not call on My Name.  I held out My Hands all day long to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own devices” (Isaiah 65:1-2)

This is the very heartache many parents have faced in dealing with their own rebellious children, praying for the day when their children would come to their senses.  Yet we know – because we have been so ourselves! – children think they know better; children who have not yet done their own stumbling and fumbling about in the darkness though they are about to because they do not trust their parents; they trust only themselves and their instincts.  We want to protect them from the mistakes we’ve made … but we can’t. 

They, too, must suffer loss and pain and heartache; and they, too, must come to know first-hand of the brutal reality of injustice.  They, too, must shed their own tears.  And The Lord willing, they will soon come to their senses like the Prodigal Son and realize that even the poorest of home exceeds the false promises of a world without meaning, without purpose, without a real sense of what Life in Christ really is about.

And through the prophet Isaiah, The Lord offers to His people a vision of what is in store for those who return to The Lord, for those who heed His call, for those who fully repent: “My servants shall eat, but others will be hungry.  My servants shall drink, but others shall be thirsty.  My servants shall rejoice, but others will be put to shame.  My servants shall sing for gladness of heart, but others shall cry out for pain of heart and wail for anguish of spirit … For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things [of heartache and anguish and suffering and pain and tears] shall not be remembered or even come to mind” (Isaiah 65:13-14; 17).

The reality of all Israel suffered, the very same stuff we suffer even today because we have failed to learn from them, is brought to bear against the reality of The Way, The Truth, and The Life that is Christ Jesus Himself rather than our own individual interpretations when we try to force the square peg of the biblical narrative fit into the round hole that is our own lives.  Though there are other ways we may have tried, other truths we have considered, and other lives we have chosen for ourselves; we cannot escape the enduring Vision revealed not only by the prophet Isaiah but also revealed IN Christ Jesus Himself.

We have resisted our God and Father for too long, and the Church has suffered, perhaps justly.  We have slopped with pigs, and we have spent our fortunes on things which do not last.  We have ignored our neighbors in their cries for justice, we have spitefully used others for our own benefit and have tossed them aside when they did not benefit us personally, and we have for too long tried to outguess – even outrun – the very God of the Life we have together as a Body, as the Body of Christ!  We have for too long walked “with bent backs” because of the burdens of this world we have freely taken upon ourselves and have denied ourselves the true rest offered by our Lord and Savior to those who fully trust Him and only Him.


Now by His Grace it is time to “straighten up our backs” because in Christ we must profess and confess we know we’re going somewhere, and we must strive to go together even though we may not all get there together.  For when we journey together and hold on to one another and strengthen one another in the fellowship of the Church, then will the “weeping come to an end” and the Glory of the Kingdom will be ours to share.  Amen.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

A Thought for Thursday 18 August 2016

“When you have had children and children’s children, and become complacent in the land … you will not live long on the land but will be utterly destroyed … You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 4:25, 26, 6:5).

Throughout the Torah (first five books of the Bible), the dominant theme is to “fear” The Lord.  According to Jewish scholars, then, the first time we are commanded to “love” The Lord comes in Deuteronomy, according to the Great Commandment Jesus Himself affirms.  So the question then becomes; is it better to “fear” The Lord, or to “love” Him?  And if we are to “love” Him, how do we do so?

Fear can compel us to obey the commandments diligently for fear of judgment in the Last Days, but there has to be more to this obedience than to be afraid of what will become of us as individuals.  Fear has its place, of course, especially when we understand the greater context of “fear” as it is used to command “respect”.  “Fear” compels us to do only for the sake of escaping any personal consequences, but this has no more value than claiming a “personal” Savior who becomes so “private” as to shut out all others except those whom we choose to love, those who can somehow benefit us “personally”.  Yet this notion of pleasing oneself can never be construed as “love” more than it must be recognized as “lust” – expecting, in fact demanding personal reward.

Yet when we “love” The Lord with our whole being, The Word itself – which is Jesus – cannot help but to breathe more life into us by connecting “love The Lord” with “love your neighbor as yourself”.  As Jesus the Living Word teaches, “the second is like the first”; which is to say, these are inseparable components of a genuine relationship based primarily on love with a healthy dose of respect.

I think we need a little “fear” to provoke us to greater works, just as Jesus teaches “the one who believes in Me … will do greater works than these” (John 14:12).  But it surely must be that when we engage more fully in the relationship, we will discover a love we have perhaps not known since we were justified before our God and Father; when by His mercy alone we were absolved of our sins and restored to His favor.  As we grow more fully into this justification and become sanctified before Him, we are more fully restored into that Perfect Image in which we are all created.  Think of when our parents compelled us to do chores, the things we would have avoided at all cost in order to be free to do only the things which pleased us “personally”.  Only as we grew in this structure, this order, this discipline were we able to learn the true value of the works for more than the works themselves.  The whole family, the household benefitted from our active engagement.  So will the Church, the body of believers, the Body of Christ Himself!

When we think of a relationship with The Lord only in terms of choosing between Heaven and hell, it is only fear that moves us.  Before long, as we well know, what truly scares us will soon become something we hold more in contempt than in love or even respect.  This is no way to live, and it is not the Life we are called and invited into.

Only when we draw closer to The Lord can we even begin to understand the depth of His Love for all of creation – even those who have deliberately harmed us.  And if this is a kind of love we cannot conceive of, it is time to take a step closer in faith, fully trusting that He will reveal to us what we need to know and when we need to know it.

The Lord is great, is He not?

Michael

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

A Thought for Wednesday 17 August 2016

“Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly.  Do not claim to be wiser that you are.  Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.  If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”  Romans 12:16-18 NRSV

One of the most prominent themes of the whole of the Bible is a strong sense of community and every member’s role within that community. The First Testament speaks to Israel as a whole (and to Judah during the time of the divided kingdom).  The New Testament speaks to the whole Church, the entire congregation as a whole, believers of all shapes and sizes and colors and even creeds.  Even those epistles addressed to some individuals (Timothy, Titus, and Philemon) speak of what makes for a stronger community woven together in Christ, the Living Word.

It must be noted within this context, then, that St. Paul is expressing the wholeness of the Body when he reminds individuals not to be “haughty” (full of themselves as if they are above any others) but to “associate with the lowly”.  This is not about dropping a few coins into the Salvation Army buckets come Christmas time, for this can be done without actually “associating” with those who will be helped.  In this it must be said, then, that thinking in terms of the community as a whole, no matter how well off we believe ourselves to be as individuals, the community as a whole can only be as strong as the weakest among us. 

St. Paul also wrote to the Galatians, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the Law of Christ” (6:2).   This simply means individual faith must not be considered so “personal” as to be rendered completely “private”; for the “law of Christ” requires that we look after one another, bear one another’s burdens, share in one another’s joys, and weep one another’s tears.

As the saying goes, the chain is only as strong as the weakest link.  We have much to gain together and much to lose whenever we withdraw unto ourselves with no concern or thought toward those who struggle emotionally, spiritually, or financially.  The Lord’s commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself” is much more than an ultimatum to ‘do it or else’.  It is rather the reality of what is needed when we face disaster or other challenges that threaten the well-being of the whole community, such as what our neighbors in southern Louisiana are facing.

Let us look to our neighbor, but not only the one “next door”.  Look instead to the one on the other side of town.  That, my friends, is the state of the community.  When we come to The Lord’s terms in this, I believe we will find strength we have yet to fully experience; and the “joy unspeakable” will be ours!

The Lord is great, is He not?

Michael

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

A Thought for Tuesday 16 August 2016

“Jesus Christ lived in the midst of His enemies.  At the end, all His disciples deserted Him.  On the Cross He was utterly alone, surrounded by evildoers and mockers.  For this cause He had come, to bring peace to the enemies of God.  So the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes.  There is his commission, his work.  'The kingdom is to be in the midst of your enemies.  And he who will not suffer [allow] this does not want to be of the Kingdom of Christ; he wants to be among friends, to sit among roses and lilies, not with the bad people but the devout people.  O you blasphemers and betrayers of Christ!  If Christ had done what you are doing, who would ever have been spared?' (Martin Luther).”  Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Life Together: the classic exploration of Christian community”

I have to be completely honest in saying I have never – NEVER – even given such a concept as this much thought at all.  I am among those who can honestly say I don’t know any (or many) non-believers because all my friends are Christians or Jewish.  All my friends are members of other synagogues and churches as well as my own; my friends are not “evildoers and mockers”.  I can honestly say the enemies I do have will have no more opportunities to abuse me or kick me around, for I will not give them another chance to do so. 

So ends the lesson in the utter arrogance of the “respectable” Christian psyche.  Thinking again of the “great cloud of witnesses” spoken of in The Letter to the Hebrews, those who were “tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection”.  Then there were the others who “had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment.  They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword … and destitute, afflicted, tormented”  (Hebrews 11:35-37 NKJV).  And the author spoke thusly of these great witnesses: “The world was not worthy of them” (vs 38). 

No one wants to be kicked around or abused, and very few Christians I know have a death wish.  Indeed we spend money we don’t even have trying to cheat death!  We would all like to live to a ripe old age and die painlessly in our sleep and in our own beds surrounded by our families.  We would all love to have a tidy nest egg we can pass on to our children and our grandchildren so they will remember us fondly, believing cash to be a legacy worthy of tremendous respect and admiration.  And after a life of comfort and security and safety and a funeral well attended, we would also like to go to Heaven.

It seems an unfair question posed by Martin Luther in asking where we would all be now if Jesus had chosen the safe route instead of the risky one.  It is unfair because Jesus followed His Father’s heart and went through it all for us.  And in remembering Him as we do when we share Holy Communion, what is it we choose to remember?  Maybe “whew!  Better Him than me!”?  Or perhaps His broken heart when one of His dearest friends betrayed Him?  Or when another denied even knowing Him?  What is it we remember?

In His death, the human race has been redeemed.  The Lord paid the price for our immortal souls and set us free from the tyranny of bondage to sin and death.  This is settled and done, worthy of our eternal gratitude.  But what else?  What else is worthy of our constant remembrance?  What else is worthy of our consideration?  For what reason are our souls set free?  Perhaps more than how He died, we may serve Him faithfully by remembering how He lived and what He taught with each parable, what He gave with each healing and every miracle that defied human logic precisely because we get a glimpse of Heaven’s glory when a significant portion of self is sacrificed for the sake of another!  Each and every time.  Not just for those we consider to be our friends, but also for those who have actually proved themselves to be our enemies.  For the truest test of agape, sacrificial love, is not in what we get but, rather, in what we are willing to give – even to “evildoers” and those who would only mock us even after taking advantage of what we offer without cost, without price, and without strings.

This must mean the Christian community is not intended to be our safe space where nothing bad happens, but the place in which we are energized and from which we are encouraged to move beyond.  To move beyond a “personal” Savior and remember the One who “lived in the midst of His enemies”, never thinking of what He was entitled to or what assurance He could gain only for Himself, but always considering what others were being cheated out of if He were to withhold any portion of Himself.  Not thinking of what will happen to Himself if He put Himself at risk, but rather thinking what will happen to those who need Him if He refused to take that risk. 

Discipleship is costly because it is never about “my” salvation; that having already been attended to when we are restored to The Lord’s favor by His mercy; but we are to be about the redemption of others still bound by the same chains that once bound us.  For whenever we set someone free from whatever it is that binds them, we are ourselves set free.  As a community, if we revel in the prosperity that is our own but are aware of someone still struggling, we cannot say the community is well.  And this is the heart of what living in Christian community is about: the well-being of the least among us.  Their right to nourishment.  Their right to safety and security.  Their basic right to live with some measure of dignity.  No, it isn’t about “works righteousness”.  It is about faith and obedience.  It is entirely about what we are teaching our children and one another about The Lord and the Covenant community. 

If we want safety and security, we can buy a Rottweiler and subscribe to a home security service.  But if it is a better and stronger and more faithful community we seek, if we truly wish to live as Christ lived and be Christ in the world today as the grateful Church must, then we must be unafraid of what might happen to us if we step outside our comfort zones and be more afraid of what will happen to someone else if we don’t.

This is the essence of The Lord’s love for us.  Without Jesus, He would still be the Almighty God and Creator.  With the Eternal Word come to life with us and in us, it is always about what happens to us if He keeps to Himself.

The Lord is great, is He not?

Michael

Monday, August 15, 2016

A Thought for Monday 15 August 2016

“Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.  For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation; ungodly men who turn the grace of our God into lewdness, and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Jude 1-4 NKJV

Clearly the salvation “to revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:5), the salvation reserved for those who “persevere to the every end” (Matthew 10:22), is indeed the very salvation which is upon us in the present age – that is, to those who trust in Christ Jesus by the witness of the Holy Spirit.  It is the salvation by which the strength of the Holy Church – the faithful congregation – is measured.  It is the salvation which gives us a reason to hope, a reason to persevere, a reason to cast aside those things we once found value in but were only things which can rust, fade, or be taken from us.  In short, it seems to be the salvation that, once embraced, can never fade.

Yet Jude (among others) maintains this salvation must be embraced, protected, and attended to for a reason.  It must be developed and perfected as in the Wesleyan doctrine of sanctifying grace.  Salvation is not simply a thing that is, a thing we acknowledge and then move on from.  Rather it is a state of active engagement when we “practice the Presence of The Lord” (Kenneth Carder, “Living our beliefs”) as we “go on to perfection” (Hebrews 6:1). 

Why is this important?  Why can’t we simply let it be?  Why can’t we accept an eternal Promise and let the Holy Spirit take care of the rest so we can just go about our business?  Will The Lord ever turn His back on His people?  Consider Ezekiel 15:7-8:  I will turn My back on them (Jerusalem). Even though they may survive the fire, another fire will nonetheless consume them.  And when I turn My back on them and oppose them, you will know I am the Eternal One.  I will transform this land into a wasteland because of their faithlessness.”

Yet The Lord turning His back on His own people, bad as this is, is not the worst and is not what Jude and other biblical writers warn us about.  It is surviving one fire only to be consumed by another!  That is, if we do not engage our salvation as the present reality which leads us forward but choose instead all the things we once took comfort in while still claiming to be “saved”, we put ourselves at great spiritual risk.  This means we must be aware of these “certain persons” Jude and the prophets warn us about who “turn the grace of our God into lewdness” because they are bona fide threats to our spiritual safety and well-being.  That is, if we neglect our salvation and deny our calling.

It is not always easy to consider the hard biblical truths we are constantly faced with, but these writers faced real danger in their own times and warned their “beloved”, the brothers and sisters of the ekklesia (the congregation of the faithful), who would eventually be forced to choose between the perversion which masks itself as “good news” but is really what Dietrich Bonhoeffer termed “cheap grace” - void of any real meaning - and the Good News, the Gospel of The Lord, which calls The Lord’s people away from the perversions of this world and the twisting of biblical truth to suit the culture’s own objectives. 

The hard biblical truth is only unsettling for most of us because it is a “chastening” coming from The Lord Himself; the very One who will only bother Himself with “chastening those whom He loves”.  If that hard biblical truth is not sitting well with us, it could be because it is a truth we need to hear in the midst of spiritual risk.  Sort of like the punishment we received from our parents when we went aside from what they tried to teach us, that punishment was given in love, not spite.

There is much at stake in our salvation.  This is why it is extremely important that we attend to this salvation which is upon us AND which is to come to “those who persevere to the end”.  We must never assume all is well; but by faithful and diligent engagement, we are assured of a place on our Holy Father’s lap in the Kingdom which is to come! 

The Lord is great, is He not?

Michael

The Church: pyromaniac? Or Flame retardant?

Isaiah 5:1-7
Hebrews 11:29-12:2
Luke 12:49-56 


“We are partakers of the Holy Spirit, who is like fire within us.  We have been baptized with fire and the Holy Spirit.”  St. Cyril of Alexandria, “Commentary on Luke, Homily 94”

What was it that once got us fired up about faith, the Gospel, The Lord and His Church?  Surely there was something about these things we were once excited about but are no longer.  If this is true, then we are compelled to ask ourselves what extinguished that fire that once burned so brightly?  What were we once so excited about that we were almost willing to fight over or did fight over, but then just let it go? 

In almost every instance, what can diminish enthusiasm for any given thing is to get excited about it, embrace it, and then discover those who once shared and even encouraged our enthusiasm just faded away and left us holding the bag and bearing all the burden.  There is probably nothing that dampens enthusiasm for something more than to discover we’re alone.  Thus due to a lack of fresh air, the fire is starved of oxygen and slowly dies out.

Jesus wants “fire upon the earth”, so we must think in those terms to understand what Jesus was teaching and how His desire for fire will lead to the divisions our Lord refers to in Luke’s Gospel – and what those divisions mean to us.  Frankly it may seem that if this fire is going to cause division even among families, then the fire may seem necessary to avoid

It is a fire which must be understood.  This is why it is important for the Church to engage such difficult passages and understand them because the Holy One who teaches us to honor mother and father (Exodus 20:12) and demands we teach our children about the commandments of The Lord (Deuteronomy 6:7) is also the One who seems to suggest He is deliberately setting us against one another – even in our own homes. 

So if the Church will not engage such challenging passages that command our attention, there is no reason to expect or hope those outside the Church will care to.  And this, of course, must be our great concern because if the Church is unconcerned about those outside these walls or one another for that matter, there is no Church, no Body that represents Christ Jesus.  We can call it what we like, but we must first be willing to be honest with ourselves and with one another. 

For the “fire” Jesus refers to is the very lifeblood of the Church that will pass the Holy Torch from one generation to the next!

Fire is a very strong force, a formidable element.  Jesus desires this fire in terms of discipleship for two reasons, I think, before we can continue on The Lord’s path.  Something must be destroyed as only fire can destroy; but this kind of fire our Lord speaks of must also spread. 

It is the Savior of the world and The Head of the Church who says: “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow Me cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:27).  He also said, “Whoever comes to Me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes and even life itself, cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26).

And we ask ourselves; does Jesus say we “cannot” because He will not allow it?  Or does Jesus say we “cannot” because when our allegiances are divided, we lack the capacity to devote ourselves fully to Him; that the cross we are to carry is more “in the way” than The Way itself? 

It must be the latter because Jesus would not forbid anyone to follow Him.  It is that what is required of a disciple means we must not attempt to carry so much baggage that will only weigh us down and divide our attention to the point of fatigue, and the fire we once knew is diminished until it is finally and completely extinguished.

St. Peter also refers to the need for such fire when he encourages the faithful to first embrace the great joy of the “salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:5) because of the great sufferings and persecutions we will surely face – IF WE ARE AS FAITHFUL as the “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1) who have gone before us.  The fire of our faith must at least match theirs, remembering their faith didn’t just sit there and “believe”!  Their faith WAS fire that spread!  We are also to be “tested by [that same] fire”, Peter says, but we are assured we can face this fire by the strength of the Church as we come to know we can depend on one another as surely as we can know of the “salvation to be revealed in the last time”.

With that very fire, we must be “purified”.

This means some things within ourselvesnot others - must be destroyed.  Not tamped down, not hobbled, not even controlled; completely destroyed.  Much in the same way The Lord demanded of Israel to destroy the people of the land they were to inherit, they had to do away completely with those things, those practices, and even those people who had the potential to draw them away from one another and the Covenant they shared with The Lord. 

What we know from those experiences, when Israel decided for itself to allow a little of those things, is that Israel – the very “nation of priests” – fell to the temptations they refused to destroy until they became fully a nation of apostates; turncoats, adulterers.  What The Lord and Moses had warned them about came to pass – even though they probably believed they knew better.  The “leaven” which would threaten the people of Israel eventually overwhelmed them to their own destruction – and that by their own doing.

It is fair to say the destruction and eventual exile of Israel began first from within a divided family, each choosing for oneself the prophets who tried to call Israel and Judah back to their senses as The Lord’s Chosen Ones, and those false prophets many of the people preferred – not unlike today - such as those prophets condemned by The Lord through Jeremiah; those who are “deluding you.  They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of The Lord.  They keep saying to those who despise the word of The Lord, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to all who stubbornly follow their own stubborn hearts, ‘No calamity shall come upon yon’”  (Jeremiah 23:16-17).

Surely we can see that when we are almost completely self-absorbed, it is most likely friends and even some family members who are likely to “delude” us with notions of self-entitlement and personal favor to the exclusion of all others, including the Church?  Even in the face of the certain death so many churches have already suffered as well as the many facing the same fate, no one is willing to “carry the cross” because everyone expects someone to do it.  No one will help because it isn’t their “thing”, but someone had better see to it according to these who will not.

These things and persons necessary for the mission of the Church, the “fire” of the lifeblood that brings forth and sustains life in the Church, cannot be attended to because we are too heavily burdened with the “weight and the sin that clings so closely” (Hebrews 12:1).  We “cannot” carry the burden of the Cross because we choose the weight of so many other things we personally prefer.  It isn’t what we are forced to deal with; it is what we freely choose for ourselves to the point of utter exhaustion under the weight of which we are unable to free ourselves because someone never showed up, no one helped us, everyone abandoned us … and the fire died out.

The fire of the Holy Spirit that should be within each of us so baptized has been replaced by the raging fires of individualism, consumerism, and self-entitlement.  It is this fire which has almost completely gutted the Holy Church because everyone wants something, but no one is willing to see to it. 

If we would but ask, however, our God stands at the ready to re-energize His people, His Church for its God-ordained mission.  We as a Body must continue to pray together for revival by the power of the Holy Spirit to restore the United Methodist Church and its witness, but we must be willing and prepared to first cast aside all those things and persons we have placed before our God and His Church.  


When we determine to “seek FIRST the Kingdom of God and His righteousness”, only then will we find all other things worth keeping – including our loved ones – “added to us”.  By His Mighty Hand and by His Spirit alone, let the people of the Church declare, YES, LORD!  Amen. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

A Thought for Wednesday 10 August 2016

“By faith Moses forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured as seeing the One who is invisible.”  Letter to the Hebrews 11:27 NKJV

St. Augustine had this to say about faith: “This would be no praise for faith, nor would it be faith at all, if people were in believing to follow after rewards they could see.”  It follows, then, that as a measure of our faith, we are to evaluate for ourselves what it is we are after.  Do we measure our spiritual growth in terms of what can be seen?  Do we measure our success in terms of what cannot be seen?  There is a measure for each, to be sure, but we must know exactly what it is we are after … or whether we are after anything at all.

Discipleship is not merely “believing”.  Discipleship is the pursuit of something greater than any single moment.  Discipleship then pursues that which cannot be found in any idle moment – nor in any idol we can put our hands on.  Discipleship cannot see what it is to be pursued, but it fully trusts that what Christ has sent us after is worth pursuing even if we cannot actually see it or put our hands on it in this present life.

Too many for too long have taken faith and discipleship for granted.  We have been convinced – by others or by our own personal sense of self-serving religion – that merely “believing” Jesus is the Son of God is sufficient without pursuing the fullness of all this entails.  Too many have been convinced for too long there is nothing to pursue; that all we need “just is”.  As a result, too many churches have focused inwardly for so long and pursued only those things which can be touched that we have lost all sense of faith and what faith actually requires of us.

What to do about it?  The prophet encourages us to, “Seek The Lord while He may be found; call on Him while He is near” (Isaiah 55:6).  If this same God spoke to His people like this so long ago, how can we believe He would not so speak to His people now?  Make no mistake, however.  We are compelled to “seek”.  This is the motion of pursuit, inwardly and outwardly, but it also requires significant faith to know something is worth pursuing even if we cannot see it with our eyes.

The Lord already came to the entire world in the birth of Messiah, and He walked the earth for those years building a Body that would devote itself to one another in pursuit of something much greater, yet which cannot be seen or touched.  The Body today cannot sit any longer gazing at its own navel, and wonder where everyone went once we finally bother to look up.  The truth is they have gone off in pursuit of something because there may be no longer a life in this Body which was called forth to “go” and “teach” and “baptize”.

Nothing is going to fall into our laps, and The Lord of the entire world is not going to make an exception for any single individual, for “The Lord does not show partiality”.  Those who spend a life pursuing that which cannot be seen will be the ones to find what they were looking for all along.  “Seek first the Kingdom of God …”

The Lord is great, is He not?

Michael