Wednesday, August 26, 2015

A Thought for Wednesday 26 August 2015

“Hypocrites!  Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: ‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.  And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men’.”  Matthew 15:7-9 NKJV

Reading an article earlier this morning, the author was pointing out the mistakes many Christians make when reaching out (that is, if they bother reaching out at all), not least among these mistakes being an insistence that others must embrace our own beliefs in order to get right with The Lord.  And often our own beliefs (honest though they may be) have not been fully vetted or conditioned upon what is actually written in the whole of the Scripture, relying more heavily on whatever can fit on a bumper sticker – and even then not being quite biblical.

Of course Christians can stay up nights trying to list all the things others find wrong with us of the Church, and we can lose a lot of sleep worrying about things we cannot change.  Some people just don’t want to hear it.  Often, however, even Christians don’t want to hear the Truth, preferring instead something we have created for ourselves over time, maybe having heard it on TV by some well-to-do preacher that resonated with us.  It is so easy to get caught up in half-truths but when we do, a closer look through the lens of Scripture might reveal that what we are embracing is not quite what is written.  “Cleanliness is next to godliness” springs to mind.

The prophet nailed the people of Judah.  Actually The Lord did, and nailed them through His prophet.  In quoting the prophet, however, Jesus was not speaking strictly of a time or a people of the past.  Jesus is speaking a timeless truth: even the people of The Lord can get caught up in paying cheap lip service to The Lord while betraying biblical principles in our hearts.  Think of displaying deep love for The Lord on social media while ignoring the Church, the “ekklesia”, the assembly of The Lord’s people.  Or passing on rumors we do not have first-hand knowledge of, but doing so because we desire to do damage to so-and-so or just want to fit in with a particular clique (especially during election season!).  The harsh truth is we cannot claim allegiance to Christ when we willfully (and often gleefully) get so caught up in the intentional destruction of so-and-so, or ignoring the real needs of the community we are called to serve.

Words are easy, and talk is cheap.  Being a disciple, however, is hard; but nothing worth pursuing is ever easy.  As a priest of my childhood once said, “If you find following Christ to be easy, you’re doing it wrong.”  Social media has its place, but it cannot become a replacement for genuine relationships through which people can actually see the love of The Lord we profess not only with our lips but with our hands and feet as well.  In the end, that is what discipleship is about: sharing what we know to be true in life-transforming ways not only for ourselves but for others as well.  There can be nothing so deeply “personal” about a relationship we claim with Christ that does not express itself outwardly in meaningful ways beyond our mere words.

The Lord desires our hearts, our full devotion, and full attention – and for reasons we cannot begin to fathom until we actually start taking Him at His Word and listen to Him carefully – even when He seems harsh.  Think about it.  If He didn’t care about us, He would have stopped speaking to us long ago.


Michael

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

A Thought for Tuesday 25 August 2015

“[My people] were scattered because there was no shepherd; and they became food for all the beasts of the field when they were scattered.  My sheep wandered through all the mountains, and on every high hill.  Yes, My flock was scattered over the whole face of the earth, and no one was seeking or searching for them.”  Ezekiel 34:5-6 NKJV

“Support without accountability promotes moral weakness, and accountability without support is a form of cruelty.”  (Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church, ¶102, pg 53)

“Misplaced compassion” has been responsible for a great deal of the falling away from the Church of many who have been given tacit approval to lead ungodly lives, ostensibly (and ironically) in the name of “grace”.  Worse, those who have tried to hold others accountable have often been accused of being “judgmental” or even “legalistic”.  So because we are a people of compassion, and convincing ourselves we are doing the morally right thing to allow those we love (or are called to love) to spiritually hang themselves, we have allowed too many to walk away from the Church with hardly a word.  We’ve even offered a stamp of approval of sorts by offering our “understanding” when they list their reasons for walking away from the congregation. 

To be clear, I have not only used just about every known excuse for not being a part of the congregation, I probably developed a few of my own!  To be equally clear, however, it was not until someone cared enough to confront me that I began to understand what being part of a congregation is really about.  This particular gentleman was truly gentle with me, but he was firm in his conviction and his willingness to walk with me.  He was willing to risk a friendship for the sake of my soul.  It took a little time to sink in, of course.  My pride was not going down without a fight!  In the end, however, and probably with a little help from the Holy Spirit and certainly my wife, I was better able to understand what being a part of the Body of Christ is about.  There is much more to it than calling oneself a Christian or claiming to have been “saved”.

The Discipline of the United Methodist Church has it right.  When we help to solidify the less-than-moral and unholy choices our friends and family members often make, we have a hand in not only weakening the whole Church, we also “promote moral weakness” in the individuals we refuse to confront.  We much prefer to be “popular” than to be “faithful”.  In such vanity, however, we compromise our own integrity.

It is not easy to stand firm in the faith, and there can be no doubt doing so will cost us in some way.  “Speaking the Truth in love” is no easy task especially in the culture we have helped to create for ourselves.  Yet “concerning the times and the seasons, you have no need that I should write to you.  For you know perfectly that the Day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night.  For when they say, ‘Peace and Safety!’, sudden destruction comes upon them as labor pains upon a pregnant woman.  And they shall not escape.”  1 Thessalonians 5:1-3

Nor will we escape who allowed them to “become food for the beasts of the field when they were scattered”, we who failed to bother to “seek or search for them”.  Maybe we assured ourselves that “at least they’re saved” – missing entirely the whole point of what it means to be a part of something, uniquely a part of the Congregation of The Lord.  To be sure, there is only so much we can do because in the end adults have to make up their own minds.  Children, on the other hand (and particular those “infants in the faith”), not so much.  We owe them.  We will not hesitate to see to their secular education and we will move mountains to help some find funding for college, but we deliberately deny them a religious education.  Why is that?

Are we – or have we become – so ashamed of our faith, our religion, our God, that we would prefer to just remain silent while the “beasts of the field” get fat on those we neglect?  Or have we been so equally neglected that we are not equipped to help others?  Either way, we cannot deny that being justified before The Lord has nothing to do with being given a free pass to Heaven.  There is much more to our being than simply waiting on an “afterlife”.  Surely our God is big enough that He can and does and will equip us to enjoy the life we’ve been given?  Not to our destruction, of course, but to be a part of something that gives true meaning to our existence than a shiny new car or new shoes.

“Love” is a big word that is wholly about what we are willing to risk for the sake of another’s well-being – as Jesus did.  And we have to do better – NOT for the sake of a church’s budget, but for the sake of the soul.  In this life and in the life to come, there is so much to look forward to; but we have to claim it and teach others.  That is the strength of the Church; and while the risks are great, we are assured the Rewards are greater: “For Love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).


Michael

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Does someone have to be wrong before we can be right?

1 Kings 8:22-26
Hebrews 4:14-16
John 14:22-31

“Not all those who wander are lost.”  J.R.R. Tolkien

In the United Church of Canada there is a situation brewing between church authority and an ordained clergy accused of atheism.  Rev. Gretta Vosper is accused of rejecting “the god called God” (her words) and the authority of the Holy Scripture.  Of course the issue is how Rev. Vosper can possibly preach and teach Christian doctrine if she does not even trust the Scripture from which doctrine ultimately comes.  

It seems a no-brainer that she cannot continue in her capacity as a minister of the very Gospel she seems to deny – except that what seems to be the source of this clergy’s “atheism” is not strictly doubt or even disbelief, though there is a measure of that.  Rather she’s having trouble with the profound divide between the movement of the 1st-century Church we read of in Acts and what has become of that Church especially since the Council of Nicaea in the 4th-century – when the Church became an institution.

There can be no reasonable doubt the Holy Spirit was involved in the movement awakened in those early days after Pentecost.  We find an “ekklesia” that is not so much concerned with “creeds” (articulated doctrine) as they are with community, fellowship, the well-being of one’s neighbors, worship of The Lord, and study of the apostles’ teachings (Acts 2:42-47, 4:32-34). 

The “ekklesia” (assembly) became so intimately connected that we are told “There was not a needy person among them” (4:34), so filled were they with the Spirit of The Lord.  Think about it: how else can we possibly explain people willing to dump all they owned into a “community pot” administered by the apostles (whom the “ekklesia” barely knew) for the well-being of everyone, the entire “ekklesia” (assembly, congregation, community)??  Those who were once “needy” no longer lacked for the essentials of living.  No real wealth to speak of, but no one went hungry.

Rev. Vosper seems to insist those days are long behind us, but it isn’t that she does not believe this reality cannot be recaptured.  Indeed to the congregation she currently serves, she insists it must be recaptured and embraced once again – for the sake and the well-being of the “ekklesia”.  But what seems to be under the skin of those who want her removed from the pulpit is her lack of orthodoxy – that is, “right beliefs”; orthodox creeds that define doctrine but do not necessarily inform the “ekklesia” or develop the character of a believer in the matter of orthopraxy – that is, “right practice”. 

In the contemporary Church there seems to be a profound disconnect between the two, between what we profess to believe and what we show to believe.  This divide is attested to by a substantial generation of millennials who have not exactly rejected faith and religion in general (though many have) but have rejected those who “profess” a belief that finds no practice in the “ekklesia”.  I submit that this shift in doctrinal thinking leading to the disconnect between “right belief” and “right practice” may be due in large measure to the 16th-century Reformation from which “works” came to be regarded as a doctrinal dirty word.

I shared recently about a church that was on the brink of self-destruction due to a particular “clique” that demanded a rigid orthodoxy and an equally rigid “litmus test” for clergy and laity to determine fitness for church membership - according to this “clique’s” own narrow standards.  It was even demanded of my pastor friend and mentor that he submit his sermon manuscripts prior to Sunday’s service for approval!  Lest there be any questions, my friend did not comply.  Whether his predecessors did submit is unknown, but what is known is that more than one clergy and many laity were utterly destroyed and driven away altogether by these self-appointed guardians.  Those driven away were not convicted of sin; they were convinced of hatred from the “ekklesia”.

I guess there was a time when I might have likely been a part of that group – except I would probably have been as easily dismissed as any other because, as you have surely come to know, I like to think outside the “orthodox box” even though I often keep one hand safely on that box.  As when we played “chase” when we were kids, that “orthodox box” is a safe haven, the “base” as we called it.  It is my default option whenever I approach the end of the pier and find myself running out of pier and running headlong into water that may be too deep!

So it isn’t that orthodoxy is not important, of course.  The controversy leading up to the Council of Nicaea had to be settled because there was a substantial camp of “Arians” (not to be confused with Aryan) who questioned the divinity of Jesus; that is, whether He is “eternally begotten of the Father”, as expressed in the Nicene Creed, or was a created being like the rest of us. 

Articulating a coherent doctrine is necessary, but the doctrine must go beyond a written belief as in a creed.  That is only a matter of having pen and paper.  What the Church must be concerned with is doctrine that finds life in flesh and blood and Spirit … and, yes, “works”.  “Right belief” cannot have real meaning for the “ekklesia” – nor for those outside of the Covenant which binds the “congregation” - if those “right beliefs” lack discernible and tangible “practice”.  “Let your light shine before others, so they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). 

We must not take the word of a Reformer over the Word of our Lord!

This is the very reason why vows taken when joining a United Methodist Church involves not only an affirmation of “right beliefs”, but also requires a vow of “right practice” of service to the Church in “prayers, presence, gifts, and service”.  These are vows freely taken; and as it is written in the Scripture: “If you make a vow to The Lord your God, do not be slow to fulfill it; for The Lord your God will certainly demand it of you and you will be guilty of sin” (Deuteronomy 23:21).

The Social Principles and General Rules of the United Methodist Church are informed largely by the intimate doctrinal connection between “beliefs” and “practice”: “Our struggles for human dignity and social reform have been a response to God’s demand for love, mercy, and justice in the light of the Kingdom.  We proclaim no personal gospel that fails to express itself in relevant social concerns; we proclaim no social gospel that does not include the personal transformation of sinners … The Book of Discipline and the General Rules convey the expectations of discipline (order) within [the “ekklesia”] … [but] Support without accountability [to discipleship] promotes moral weakness; [and] accountability without support is a form of cruelty.  A church that rushes to punishment is not open to God’s mercy, but a church lacking the courage to act decisively on personal and social issues loses its claim to moral authority.  The Church exercises its discipline (remember “order” rather than “punishment”) as [the “ekklesia”] through which God continues to ‘reconcile the world to Himself’” (2012 Book of Discipline, ¶102, pg 53).

In all of this, it is not strictly a matter of who may or may not be “wrong” in any particular belief.  Rather it is primarily about the “ekklesia” offering to an unbelieving world what is truly righteous.  Not everyone can claim a rigid belief in a particular doctrine that lacks a discernable moral code.  That is, a discernible Gospel that is as personal as it must be social.  And that fundamental Gospel must surely be not only that Messiah Jesus is “eternally begotten of the Father” but that He is also “the Word which became flesh and dwelt among us”. 

Our faith and our witness is not at all about being “right”, for we are human beings with human minds and limited human understanding about the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven.  This in no way means we need not search, but we are as capable of being wrong as being right – especially in a rush to judgment.  This in no way, however, can be used as an excuse for being anything less than “righteous” – that is, merciful and with a profound sense of fundamental justice due to all of Creation.  Our Lord did indeed – and does still through His Holy Church – redeem and justify and sanctify souls; but perhaps as much as anything else, our Lord also stands for the dignity and well-being of the human person – even those who do not yet trust in Him.

Our Lord Jesus said, “I do as the Father has commanded me, so the world may know I love the Father.  Rise, and let us be on our way” (John 14:31). 


And so I say to you, let us “rise and be on our way” to go about the business of The Lord – to be the “Light” we are all called to “be”; the “Light” we are all called to “do”.  Amen.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Answer to an unknown Question

How can Donald Trump – or any political candidate, for that matter – be the answer to an unknown or, at best, vague question?  Mr. Trump’s mantra is “Make America Great Again”, and it seems most of what he is focused on is immigration – specifically illegal immigration.  Yet there is a fundamental problem with his premise of a diminished greatness attributed strictly to immigration, given that the US is predominantly a nation of immigrants (Native Americans being the exception, of course).  I might suggest that even at the turn of the 20th century there were more than a few immigrants who circumvented the legal process.

I was born in the US as were my parents and likely my paternal grandparents (not really known, however).  On my mother’s side are her paternal grandparents who arrived in the US through New Orleans from Syria (so the story goes.  Imagine my disappointment when I finally found out it was not Sicily, never having even heard of Syria.).  On her mother’s side is some Native American blood, but with a tribe unknown it is difficult to make any claim of substance.

My objection to Mr. Trump’s premise is the notion that America is not great, that the shine on the American star has diminished in any way.  Immigrants are not themselves the problem, although a porous national border is a big national security problem.  Corrupt and/or power-hungry politicians have been a problem almost from the beginning of this republic, but service to this country by her citizens has never been a problem.  Men and women have eagerly given freely of themselves in defense of this nation – sometimes for America’s borders but at all times for America’s highest ideals.

Freedom (which is not absolute), justice (which is not always blind), and mercy (which is not always without some pre-conditions).  These are the ideals and principles upon which this nation is founded, and these are the principles by which true greatness is measured.  These are the concepts sought after by the millions who risk everything to come and try to make a home and a future for their children.  Given my muddled ancestry, I am extremely lucky I was born here! 

I am a citizen of the United States but, as with Divine Mercy, citizenship is not something I have earned nor is it something to which I am entitled except by birth.  I have earned the title “United States Marine” and have proudly worn the uniform of the United States, but this did not offer to me any entitlement for my service (peace time though it was).  I chose to wear the uniform out of a sense of duty and gratitude as have millions before me have done and millions have since and will continue to do – untold numbers among these immigrants who were and still are willing to pay a price to earn their citizenship.  With the exception of the famed Navajo Code Talkers of WWII and other Native Americans before and since, we are all immigrants.

No one will claim we do not have a law enforcement problem in this country as it pertains to immigration.  It is a tragedy that many have suffered and died at the hands of illegal immigrants who came to this country with evil intentions, and it is a travesty that our immigration agencies and border patrol officers are fighting a losing battle with no real support from Washington DC.  Yet the greatness of this country is not in question because these officers and citizens are so willing to serve and fight even an uphill battle.


There are many problems we face as a nation, but our greatness is measured by our willingness to fight and face these problems courageously, justly, honestly, and forthrightly; problems that will not go away as long as self-serving politicians are elected and re-elected based on the premise that they alone are the answer to an unarticulated question.  I think maybe we should first form a national question before we begin looking for answers.  For any political candidate to question the “greatness” of this nation, however, is to disqualify that person from the start.

Monday, August 17, 2015

A Thought for Monday 17 August 2015

“My soul faints for Your salvation, but I hope in Your Word.  My eyes fail from searching Your Word, saying, ‘When will You comfort me?’”  Psalm 119:81-82

The praise of the Law is strange for Christians who rely instead on St. Paul’s words: “We are not under the law but under grace” (Romans 6:14).  This is, I think, a simple understanding of “law” as nothing more than a list of rules, things we must not do.  When we understand “law” in its broadest terms, however, especially when we understand the Law as The Word of The Lord, we find treasure we never knew existed.  And when we embrace the whole Word – rather than a series of words carefully selected to suit our own purposes – we find the “comfort” the psalmist was searching for.

Our parents had rules we were expected to abide by; and although we often rebelled against those rules as we grew older and bolder, we also discovered not only consequences for violation of those rules but reasons for the very existence of these rules.  We learned from these rules many useful lessons that would inform us well into adulthood.  We discovered not restrictions but a parent’s love for us and a concern for our well-being.

That is the whole of the Word today just as it was then.  Jesus didn’t dismiss the Law; He taught from that Law (in Hebrew it is Torah).  In fact He personified that Law as “the Word which became flesh”.  It is this same Word from which salvation comes; fully trusting in the Word as a Father’s love for us and a concern for our well-being – both today and in the world to come.

We must not dismiss the Law nor should we excuse ourselves in the name of “grace”, for grace is found within the Torah itself when we see the imperfections of those written of in the Scripture still used to build a Nation (Israel).  Torah is not strictly a list of rules (and certainly not only Ten).  It is the very Way of Life as Jesus Himself is the Way.

Blessings,

Michael

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Throwing out the baby with the bath water

Leviticus 16:6-10
2 Corinthians 5:16-21
John 6:56-69

“It's too easy to criticize someone who is out of favor and forced to shoulder the blame for everybody else's mistakes.”   Leo Tolstoy

“Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater is an expression and a concept used to suggest an avoidable error in which something good is eliminated when trying to get rid of something bad, or in other words, rejecting the essential along with what is not essential.”

“A slightly different explanation suggests that this flexible catchphrase has to do with discarding the essential while retaining the superfluous [unimportant] because of excessive zeal.  In other words, the idiom is applicable not only when throwing out the baby with the bathwater, but also when someone might throw out the baby and keep the bathwater.” Wikipedia.com

An old boss expressed it like this: “Stepping over a dollar to pick up a dime.”

Some things are important to “me” that are not so important to “you”, and vice versa.  It doesn’t make any particular list of priorities more or less important than any other by human standards, but what is important to us does reveal what is going on inside our heads and our hearts as much as Jesus teaches that “from the mouth comes the abundance of the heart” (Luke 6:45).

Yet when trying to get a sense of what is truly important by Kingdom standards when considering the Law regarding the Day of Atonement, Jesus’ teaching about His flesh and blood, and St. Paul’s perspective on unity within the Body of Christ, we may get a sense that what is important to us as individuals depends perhaps on what is at the top of our list on any given day.  One day it is about expelling sin from our lives, another day it is strictly about the depth of our affiliation with Jesus, and yet on another day it is about the depth of our relationships with one another.

Even though these three items may seem to be at odds with the theology of “grace” and a “personal relationship with Jesus” as the sole means of salvation, there is an underlying principle that ties these readings, these components together.   There is a principle that brings everything together and necessarily broadens our biblical understanding of what is truly important in the Kingdom and strengthens the bonds of the Church. 

It has to be Reconciliation – restoring that which is broken.  In the modern-day Jewish practice of Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), preparations begin a week prior to the actual Day itself.  In prayer and in fasting in preparation for presenting oneself to The Lord on Yom Kippur, it is necessary to consider all relationships.  To think about hard feelings and grudges held, the faithful are compelled to make every effort to right any wrongs they may have some part in or to simply clear up misunderstandings before they dare approach The Lord.

Jesus actually teaches this very Jewish principle according to Matthew’s Gospel (5:23-24) in which it is written: When you are offering your gift at the altar (‘you shall not appear before The Lord empty-handed, Dt 16:16), if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.”

The underlying message is that we cannot expect to be reconciled to The Lord unless and until we are first reconciled to one another – broken or damaged relationships restored - much in the same way Jesus teaches that “if you forgive others … your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive you” (Matthew 6:14-15).  This is unambiguous, and Jesus offers no exceptions – perhaps especially no exceptions for the “justified” (or “saved”).  For it is also written, “To whom much has been given, from him much will be required” (Luke 12:48).

A pastor friend once shared with me some horror stories of a church to which he had been appointed.  The congregation was grossly divided against itself and was in danger of imploding.  The church at one time had been hosting two worship services to accommodate the large crowds but had dwindled to almost nothing.  The reason for the decline was a particular “clique group” that believed itself to be holding all the cards having destroyed some people and pastors they alone had deemed unacceptable. 

The first thing my pastor friend chose to do was to hold only one worship service, a deliberate move to force what was left of the congregation to sit together and worship together.  One parishioner came to the pastor and made it clear that if this were to happen, he will go somewhere else because so-and-so was attending the other worship service.  Apparently so-and-so was this parishioner’s arch enemy, and he refused to be in the same building at the same time with so-and-so.  My pastor friend quoted the Scripture and told this parishioner: “That is your choice, of course, but it will also be your eternal condemnation if you refuse to be reconciled to so-and-so.  You’ll only take that hatred and resentment somewhere else, but you will never get rid of it.”

Sadly many more did leave the church (I don’t know if this particular parishioner or if so-and-so stayed).  Many others, however, for love of the Church and for the sake of mission chose to reconcile.  They chose to do the hard work of making things right and letting bygones be bygones.  They came to realize the ones being harmed by the many grudges were not only the grudge-holders themselves, but there was substantial “collateral damage” done in the community. 

But because enough of the faithful were resolved and committed to the necessary hard work before them, in two years worship attendance was getting to be standing-room-only, new guests were no longer afraid to attend (small town gossip made sure everyone knew what was going on, true or not), and the last I heard they were reconsidering an additional worship service.  All because of the faith and the commitment of only a few.  The pastor was only the facilitator.

There were many hard choices to be made and some very difficult matters to be faced, but at the heart of it all was Reconciliation – restoring that which was damaged or broken.  This pastor made sure everyone understood that their need to reconcile was not strictly so that the church would not disappear.  Immortal souls were on the line.  Playtime was over, individual demands were no longer the order of the day, haters were held to account, and the “private club” the church had become was no longer in business.

What is significant about such a recovery, however, was not strictly that folks had to get right with Jesus.  They did have to get right with The Lord, of course, but something else had to happen before that could be possible.  We like to express the concept of the “unconditional love” The Lord has for all Creation, and this “unconditional love” is expressed in Jesus’ willingness to go to the Cross for all of humanity.  But this notion of “unconditional love” has convinced too many of us that there are no spiritual consequences for our bitterness and hatred and resentment toward one another.  This is the greatest lie perpetuated by the Church – and probably helped along by the evil one himself because it certainly does not come from The Lord nor His Word.

New believers need to know the Truth of “unconditional love”, of course, but they will never come to even comprehend the depth of that Love if it is not evident in the Body of Christ which is the Church.  In the fullness of the Spirit of the Living God we are possessed by the depth of that Love in which we are constantly mindful that in spite of our unworthiness, our God and Holy Father nevertheless chose to redeem us, to make reconciliation with The Lord possible.

But I also want to throw this out for our consideration.  Is it possible we hold grudges, we harbor anger and resentment against one another because we do not know or comprehend the forgiveness of The Lord in our own lives?  Is it possible we receive the Eucharist of The Lord but do not fully understand what it means to “eat the flesh” and “drink the blood”?  Do we ultimately “walk away” as those disciples in Jesus’ day did because it is too difficult to understand that love and what forgiveness really means? 

We must understand that each time we choose anger and hatred and resentment and vindictiveness against one another, we ultimately “walk away” from Christ because the really hard work of discipleship is beyond our willingness to forgive.  And perhaps we lack such willingness because we do not feel as though we ourselves have been forgiven.  By The Lord or by our neighbors or our fellow disciples. 

Finding another congregation, another pastor, or withdrawing from the Church altogether – as has become the habit of many who don’t get their way - may make us feel better in the interim, but walking away only deals with a symptom; it does not deal directly with the illness – especially when the illness is within ourselves.  It is in “throwing out the baby with the bath water” by which we think we’re dealing with certain issues by throwing certain persons from our lives, but we’ve done nothing about the anger, the hurt feelings, the resentment that only builds, and the growing sense of vindictiveness that will not abate with time.  We have thrown out the baby, but have chosen to retain the toxic bathwater.

The reason for this is simple: we deliberately choose NOT to forgive.  And as my pastor friend and mentor has stated emphatically, we will carry that very heavy baggage all the way to hell – for Grace is as Grace does.  And if Grace will not do as it must, Grace cannot do as it should.

So let us deliberately and purposefully throw out the bathwater that has become so toxic with sin and guilt and mercilessness, but we must keep the baby – because the baby is us.  The Baby is the Church.  The Baby is the Body of Christ Himself who died for sin and was raised in Glory for us all – even the jerks.


Amen.     

Thursday, August 13, 2015

“No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the Last Day.  It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall be taught by God’.  Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me.”  John 6:44-45 NKJV

As difficult as yesterday’s passage about Jesus’ flesh and blood as “real food and drink” was for Jesus’ contemporaries, it is probably at least as difficult for us today to read in Jesus’ own words that in order to believe in Him, one must be summoned first by the Father.  For generations we’ve been taught that we must come to Jesus in order to have eternal life, that the decision is ours alone.  So why the twist?

For those of Jesus’ day, there were things to see with one’s own eyes.  Jesus healing, Jesus feeding, Jesus teaching with the kind of authority lacking of the religious teachers.  Not to say Jesus didn’t have His own detractors, of course, because He was often accused of doing such things in the name of Satan.  Yet there were some things physically seen that would have been impossible to explain and equally impossible to deny.

We do not have Jesus standing in front of us today.  We do not witness a basket of a few loaves of bread and some fish to feed multitudes.  And because we cannot see it with our eyes, it is much more difficult to believe.  For some it is impossible.  Funny, though, that we eagerly believe bad gossip about people we don’t like even though we do not actually see things with our own eyes, isn’t it?  Yet to believe in the Gospel of The Lord, there apparently must be an Invitation first – and not just from a preacher on Sunday.  The Invitation must come from Above.

First we must not confuse “belief” with “faith”.  We can “believe” almost anything (like gossip) even if we have no first-hand experience, but that belief does not become a part of who we are.  There is no real “trust” in what we choose to believe – and the gossip has nothing to do with The Lord or the Gospel.  That is destructive behavior we choose to become a part of, destructive behavior that will ultimately destroy us.

But when “faith” becomes a part of who we are, there begins a transformation.  We not only “believe” something to be real, we learn to fully “trust” in all that comes with it.  We are willing to take the Word seriously, believe it, and obey it without question whether we understand it or not.  We begin to take The Lord at His Word.  All this requires something more than even a credible eyewitness, for though we may hope it to be so, the reality is the Gospel is too incredible to believe without some help.  Note the difference between the disciples who followed, and abandoned, Jesus - and the apostles who stood courageously after Pentecost when the Holy Spirit filled them.  There were no doubts after that.  They obeyed to build up the “ekklesia”, the Church, and they obeyed to the point of their own deaths.

There must first be credible witnesses who attest to the Truth, not to a vague concept of a possibility.  Then must come full repentance, not just a willingness to “believe” just enough to get by.  There must be a full-on investment of hope.  When we show The Lord that this remarkable Gift of faith will not be wasted, it will be granted. 

Does this mean the antiquated doctrine of “predestination” has some validity?  A doctrine that says some are born “saved” and others are born “condemned”?  Surely this cannot be true since it is written in the Scripture that it is the desire of the Holy God that “all” will be saved on the Last Day. 

First things first.  It is the mantra and mission of the United Methodist Church and the expression of Messiah’s Great Commission to the Holy Church: “Go and make disciples”.  Share the Good News.  Some will want it, others will not.  A twist on a battle cry is for witnesses of the Gospel: “Love ‘em all; let God sort them out.”

Blessings,

Michael