Monday, April 20, 2015

A Thought for Monday 20 April 2015

“The Lord is far from the wicked, but He hears the prayers of the righteous.”  Proverb 15:29

When we think of “wicked” persons doing “wicked” things, we think of those who are actively engaged in destructive behavior.  They are not simply “not nice”; they are deliberately mean.  They set out to do harm either physically or emotionally.  These “wicked” persons take some perverted pleasure in hurting people.

Conversely, the proverb also speaks of the “righteous”.  In the contrasting context, then, we are compelled to look at two opposing forces.  Neither is ambivalent.  Both are actively engaged: one in good, the other in evil.

It is important, then, to recognize the language in the strongest possible terms.  The “righteous” are not simply those who believe (“even demons believe and tremble”); they are actively engaged in good works.  They are “doers of the Law” and not simply hearers.  They are actively engaged in a moral life of justice and mercy.  These are the ones whose prayers are heard.

We let ourselves off the hook too often for simply claiming that Jesus’ righteousness is our salvation.  This is true, of course, but we must also recognize the depth of faith involved in a life of discipleship: active engagement in Jesus’ life right up to the bitter, and yet glorious end.  Our time on this earth is short compared to the Life we are being prepared for in the world to come.  So we must live intentionally, purposefully, and reverently in the Life to which we are called; the life that emulates Jesus’ own life.  “And those who endure to the end will be saved”.

Blessings,
Michael

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Christian Ethics and the Seven Virtues: part I, Humility

2 Chronicles7:11-16
James 4:1-10
Mark 9:30-37

“Humility is the foundation of all virtues, so in the soul in which this virtue does not exist, there cannot be any other virtue except in mere appearance.”  St. Augustine of Hippo

In other words, we can put on a show for others, but virtue will not be a part of who we really are.

As “pride goes before destruction” (Prov 16:18) and opens the “wide gate” to all other of the so-called Seven Deadly Sins, so also “humility before honor” (Prov 15:33) is the “narrow way” to the necessary attributes of the disciple: faith, hope, charity, fortitude, justice, prudence, and temperance. 

But what is humility, really?  What does it mean to “humble oneself” to The Lord … or to anyone, for that matter?  Jesus teaches that if it is Divine Favor we seek, and we should, we must first be willing to be “last of all” and “servant of all” – not only to a select few.  How do we seek Divine Favor by intentionally not seeking Divine Favor?

Pastor and author Rick Warren believes, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less”.  A general consensus would suggest that our view of our own importance would be in deference to the importance of others.  We don’t think less of ourselves; we just think more of others.  As Jesus teaches the Twelve who would soon become the Church, we of that same Church, that same tradition, must be willing to be “last of all” and “servant to all” if we want to be “first” in the Kingdom of Heaven. 

This would be summarized in such a way: if we honestly believe we are better than someone else, more deserving than anyone else – by any measure or means – we lack humility, and consequently, all other virtues; and “destruction” will follow – if the Bible is correct.  One way or the other, we will be humbled – by our own choice and deliberate practice or by some external agent against our will.  

It is one thing to have confidence enough in something that gives us motivation, drive, and a certain sense of fearlessness to do what needs to be done regardless of the risk.  It is another thing altogether, however, to cross that fine line from confidence to arrogance.  It is the difference between trusting The Lord completely, enough to obey Him without question – or trusting ourselves primarily.  WE become the masters.  It is that point of distinction between a necessary sense of gratitude for anything we may have and a sense of entitlement for everything we think we deserve. 

We should not be thinking of ways to beat ourselves up when we are so richly blessed.  We must instead be thinking of ways to build up others through those blessings.  If we believe we are so richly blessed because The Lord favors us personally, we deny the biblical reality that The Lord shows no partiality.  We are blessed for purposes beyond our own “selfish ambitions”

When we stop worrying so much about ourselves, we will find more time and more room for The Lord in our lives.  We will find The Lord more prominent – and dominant – in our lives.  And that is what we are looking for.

Here is an interesting thought I was made aware of this past week.  In Leviticus 10 we are told of Aaron’s sons who had “performed the [fire] ritual correctly but had not done so as a "commandment" - that is, they had not consulted Moses to see whether it was The Lord's intent that they offer the fire … it is a reminder that the way the priests - and we today - serve The Lord is not only … by [doing things properly], but also [in doing properly we express] our intention to fulfill a command of The Lord [to an end greater than the means done properly].”  Rabbi Richard N. Levy

As Holy Communion is to serve a holy purpose, we may even consider the ways in which we add or remove from what is written in the Scripture to suit our own, less-than-holy purposes.

This is significant for us.  Moses reminded the grieving Aaron as his sons had been consumed by the fire they had tried to offer, “Through those who are near Me I will show Myself holy, and before all the people I will be glorified” (Lev 10:3) … not “you”.  The text seems to suggest the sons of Aaron were out of line in offering “unholy fire” perhaps because they got a little too full of themselves in their capacity as priests.  They were not offering fire to reveal The Lord’s glory; they were offering fire to enhance their own glory and were ultimately destroyed by their own means.

Genuine humility serves a holy purpose but only if humility itself is considered a means to a greater end – growing in faith and confidence in The Lord and in love for our neighbor, opening the “narrow door” to genuine virtue and closing tight the “wide gate” to vice.  As the Church Fathers and other philosophers believed and taught, if humility is lacking in us, so will virtue itself be lacking.  And The Lord nor our neighbors are lifted up. 

And I think this is what St. James must be alluding to.  He writes (3:16), “Where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind”.  Opening chapter 4, James writes of the “conflicts and selfish disputes” within the fellowship of the Church.  Do you suppose the reason there are so many disputes in the local church today is because what we seek, what we desire most, what we are willing to invest in and work toward, is what we want for ourselves (4:5), with no mind or concern about what The Lord may actually want from the church?

Even with limited resources one group wants “this”, another group wants “that”, and still another group thinks “another” thing is what the church needs most (none admitting it is strictly what they desire) – but the desire of each group has nothing to do with the overall mission and need of the Church.  Our personal desires are more about making the “club” more pleasing to ourselves.  Nothing has to do with striving to make The Lord look good (which is what it means to “glorify” The Lord) or conveying His mercy. 

We want what WE want for our own self-pleasure or sense of self-satisfaction.  And because we are unique individuals with unique tastes, there is no way – NO WAY! – we will be able to come together for the common purpose to which we as The Church are called, the common purpose we each vowed toward when we joined HIS Church … in humble submission to The Lord and His Church and, yes, His Moral Law.

Somewhere along the line, being a long-time member of the Church has come to mean special privilege according to personal demands.  Somewhere along the way, The Lord has all but been kicked to the curb of the Church with hardly a notice, and yet we curse and protest and worry that The Lord was somehow kicked out of public schools because they won’t make the kids pray! 

This is strictly about being more mindful of and more sensitive to what offends us personally rather than about what will teach others about the true nature of The Lord and His open arms to all sinners through the Church.  In worrying more about public schools than the Church we serve, we reveal our own less-than-humble nature.  And that’s when we know we are in danger of crossing – or already have crossed - that line from spiritual confidence to personal arrogance.  Both the Church and those who need The Lord will suffer.
   
It is not about “you” nor “you” nor even “me”.  It never was, as Aaron and his sons were reminded.  It is entirely about how the holiness, the perfection, the abundant mercy of The Lord will be revealed through us and not strictly for us.  This is the essence of humility and the foundation of all virtue, including faith. 

As we intentionally choose to “descend”, we will soon find ourselves “ascending” by the might and the mercy of The Lord.  Let us choose to be lifted rather than to lift ourselves in vain.  If we choose to elevate or lift ourselves by our own chosen means, the fall is imminent – in this life or the next.  But when we are so lifted by The Lord, lifted us where we will stay. 


For all glory and honor are yours, Almighty Father, now and forever.  Amen.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Messiah Complex

“If you don't choose heroes, heroes will be chosen for you.  They will not represent values that empower you; they will represent powers that will enslave you”.  Russell Brand, “My Booky Wook”

Ok, so Russell Brand is not exactly a philosopher one would take seriously.  He is an entertainer.  Speaking to the dangers of what is often referred to as “messiah complex”, however, Brand’s observation goes to the heart of a big empty place in the collective heart of America.  It may also speak to the failure of the American Church (all denominations collectively) to make known the One – the only One - who is the eternally “anointed” of the Most High God (the Living Word become flesh), we of the individual churches being much more concerned with our own agendas in doing whatever it will take to get folks to come to our own church.

The “messiah complex” is understood as a psychological state of mind in which one believes oneself to be, or has a desire to be, the answer to everyone’s prayers (my own summary definition based on several, some professional, observations).  These persons are not necessarily psychologically unstable.  They just have egos that need to be tested and possibly checked.  Given that these individuals will not do so voluntarily (genuine humility does not seem to be among their strong suits), however, it is encumbent on us to vet these pretenders very carefully lest they be allowed to become the “power that will enslave you”.   

The Hebrew word “messiah” itself means “anointed” (“christ” in Greek) and should not be confused with “savior”, as the term itself is not unique to Jesus of Nazareth.  Moses was “anointed” to his special task.  King Saul was “anointed” as was King David, but none were designated a “savior”; only as leaders under The Lord’s sovereign authority.  These men were anointed to unite The Lord’s people and to serve as conduits to The Lord’s provision.  They were to lead The Lord’s people to face their enemies; but by their faith in The Lord’s providence and their willingness to obey The Lord, they would be “saved”. 

Consider also one who is “anointed” to preach.  This “anointing” does not render a preacher a “savior” – far from it!  Within the context of the Church, and according to certain spiritual gifts, it means an individual has been deemed adequately gifted to speak on behalf of the One True Savior – The Lord alone.  This “anointed” person then uses his or her unique gifts and talents to that singular end.  The task to which these are anointed is not about making a congregation feel good about themselves nor the preacher; it is entirely about helping a congregation to feel good enough about The Lord to fully trust in The Word.

The advent of the presidential election season is upon us; and listening to these aspiring candidates and the lofty promises they are already making, we must be especially careful not to jump too quickly on any particular band wagon.  These candidates are self-anointed, and each is speaking strictly in his or her own behalf.  Each one claims to be the answer to all our problems.  The problem with this, however, is that we do not have a multitude of problems even though we face many challenges. 

We as a nation have only a single problem: we are entirely too individually oriented toward self.  In such a state, then, we are likely to believe anyone who strikes a chord with us personally, and that allegiance will be based on little more than stated promises.  We will not demand that these candidates spell out for us exactly how they will attain a certain goal.  We do not care about the details; we only like the idea.  For instance, we may collectively agree Social Security must be reformed for the sake of the whole nation.  We will not agree, however, to take any less than what we believe we are entitled to.

Even beyond this, consider how much time and energy these candidates expend trying to convince us of who is to blame for any and all problems!  Rather than to demand these same candidates show (not tell) us exactly what they will do, we will allow these persons to demonize a political opponent.  We fail to see that such efforts seem more focused on that candidate’s lack of legitimate credentials even as they try to convince us the opponent is really the one who is lacking.  And we fall for it every time.  “Thus they will be known by their fruits.”

In the biblical anointing, each designated “messiah” had a common purpose rather than a unique task for a particular time.  Each was anointed to unite the people; the whole people, not segments of the people.  Moses worked to that end.  King David did, and so did Jesus.  It was never about the individual; it was always about the congregation of the people and building up their confidence in The Lord as a people.  When their faith wavered, the whole people suffered.  When a few rebelled against The Lord’s Law, the whole people suffered.

Yet we are constantly facing self-designated “messiahs” today who are not working to unite us as a nation.  They are much more diligent about not only trying to make us afraid of one another or a whole opposing party (Democrat vs. Republican); they are also trying to convince us that they alone have all the answers.  Too often we let them get away with it because we fall for their empty words, charisma, physical appearance, or family connections.  They are much more likely to tell us what they think we want to hear.  Few have the courage to tell us what we need to know.


Jesus did tell us what we need to know.  Trusting that alone will be our salvation in the end.  All other pretenders are merely seasons to come and go (Ecclesiastes 3).  We will do well to know the difference.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Christian Ethics and the Virtues of Faith

Leviticus 19:9-19a
James 2:8-20
Matthew 7:13-27

“Politics is not the task of a Christian.”  Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Ironically, in light of Bonhoeffer’s observation and opinion, these past few weeks have seen politics in America sink to levels that surprised even me – and I’m a political cynic!  The Religious Freedom Restoration debates in Arkansas and Indiana saw not the worst of humanity but, actually, the worst of Christianity – from both sides, each claiming to speak in Jesus’ name! 

This dark period was capped with a cherry on top by a self-described “evangelist” from AZ who baited a bakery in FL.  When the bakery declined his request for a particular cake, believing it to be a prank call, this “messenger of the Gospel” (which is what an “evangelist” is supposed to be) hit social media to highlight this “godless” bakery that denied him a certain cake with a certain caption for a certain cause (the “cause” – and his Christian “credentials” - were lost due to this guy’s vindictiveness!).  Soon this man’s followers from all over the country were calling this bakery, threatening their business, and threatening their lives - all in the name of Jesus!

I cannot help but to wonder how this bakery must have felt about this particular “God” whose followers threatened to kill them and their families, or burn down their business and homes?  It is not unlike how we typically question the “God” of Islam, judging by the very public and barbaric behavior of those who claim allegiance to “Allah”. 

How do you suppose others view our God, judging by our public behavior?  It is a question every person of faith is compelled to ask … and then answer truthfully.  Funny how we believe in grace when we talk about our own sins, but we absolutely believe in and uphold the Law when it comes to the sins of others. 

Admittedly lately we Christians have been taking it on the chin and feel like we are being needlessly bullied and taunted and unfairly treated, which is the sentiment driving this Religious Freedom Restoration.  These political initiatives, we are told (by politicians, incidentally), are designed to protect us from being compelled by secular law to violate the Divine law.  It is a political push-back against what we’ve decided is a political fight – not a moral cause. 

Jesus, however, never asked us to push back.  Nor did our Lord advise us to go to “Caesar” whenever we get our noses out of joint.  Actually in our political quest to fight a moral fight we believe to be right, we seem inclined to go directly to “Caesar”.  And we always expect “them” to be straightened out … because “we” are not the problem.  Right?

Remembering the prophets spoke to Israel, before and during the Exile, within the context of the only Scripture they would have known, the Torah, it can be so written, “[The Lord] has told you, O mortal, what is good [through Torah]; and [according to the law] what does The Lord require of you but to DO justice, to LOVE kindness, and to WALK humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).    

Now it might be our inclination to say, ‘That’s it.  That’s all there is to it; just be nice’.   However, this statement is packed with the entirety of the “royal law according to the Scripture”, as St. James points out and as Jesus affirms: “In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets” (Matthew 7:12). 

We are not admonished to merely refrain from evil acts, although it would be a good start.  We are compelled and commanded toward purposeful acts of justice, deliberate acts of kindness, and intentional acts of humility – all as a reflection of how we understand our God and our relationship to our God according to The Word (“the Word which was in the beginning”, the Word which was revealed at Mt. Sinai, the Word “which became flesh”).

What “evangelism” has become for the church, however, is a twisted idea of what may be more appropriately classified as “superstition” rather than faith.  Rather than to hear St. James’ admonition as it is written in its entirety instead of a few select verses – to a church that should have known better according to the only Scripture they would have known, the Torah - our sense of “evangelism” has twisted James’ words.  We do not say to those who are “naked and lacking daily food” to “go in peace and eat your fill”.  We are more likely to say, “Get a job, make your own peace, and buy your own fill”.

OR we may make the necessary doctrinal correction by saying to those who are “lacking”, “Just accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior, and all will be well with you.  Then you can go in peace and eat your fill”.  We have left them just as we had found them, “naked and hungry”, but we have convinced ourselves we have fulfilled the Great Commission when, in fact, we’ve done nothing at all … nothing meaningful to them, nothing useful for them.

Do you notice how “hate speech” has become so defined in the politically correct world to include passages from the Bible, especially the prohibitive passages?  When we rightly stand opposed to what we believe the Scripture is clear about, I wonder if the reason our objections are not taken seriously is because our own chosen words and efforts lack “Gospel” substance.  We have so busied ourselves in trying to do spiritual warfare by political means that we have lost any sense of some fundamental principles of what we, as the Church, are called to actually do

“Get saved” is not one of them; “save others” is, however, many of them.

Now I know there are many with an understanding of “righteousness” in that our “works” will not earn Divine favor; that we are not justified by what we do – we are justified by what The Lord will do.  I get that, and I sincerely hope you do, also.  I think, however, that we are missing the point when we look at the “royal law” so narrowly as to miss entirely the fullness of the Gospel.  There has to come a point at which it is no longer about “me”.  I frankly wonder if it was ever about “me” at all – but more about those we will come into contact with after we are justified and filled with the Holy Spirit and within our knowledge of the written Word Itself – rather than the words we’ve made up.

For the next few weeks we will explore what are known as the Seven Virtues.  These Virtues were once considered the essential characteristics of the Christian but are today – especially post-Reformation - all but forgotten by a Church that seems more familiar with the Seven Deadly Sins and those who are so guilty.  Considering St. James’ context of the “royal law according to the Scripture”, if the words and principles of the Bible are indeed timeless as we like to believe, it is time to reach back to some fundamentals and add substance to our being as The Body of Christ. 

It is maddening and madness to witness what the so-called “social progressives” are doing to The Word in their feeble attempts to make The Word relevant to an unbelieving culture, but I cannot say we so-called “conservatives” are doing The Word much justice ourselves when all we do is “push back” - angrily.  Are we not called to “counter-act” evil with acts of goodness, grace, and mercy rather than to respond to evil with evil acts of our own? 

An evil act, even by the hands of a righteous person, is still by its nature an evil act.

I think we can do better.  I know we must do better.  Jesus expressed in the Sermon on the Mount, “Everyone who hears My words AND acts on them will be like the wise man …” (Mt 7:24), St. Paul expressed in his epistle to the Romans, “It is not the hearers of the law who are righteous in The Lord’s sight, but the DOERS of the law who will be justified”, {ooh, that’s gotta sting!} (Rm 2:13), and St. James affirmed in his epistle, “Be DOERS of the Word and not merely hearers” (Jas 1:22). 

It is time to hear the Word and then respond appropriately, graciously, humbly, and purposefully rather than to allow the Word to just sit idle.  There is no component of the Church – NONE – not parties, not potlucks, not fundraisers that can exist without an outreach element and deliberate effort.  NOT ONE, NOT EVER.  Everything we do, without exception, is an expression of what we know about The Word of our God – and that’s what people see … and believe.

When – and only when – we are true to the Eternal Word will we find true meaning in The Word in our own lives and in the Life that is the Church.  And we will, according to that same Word, be richly blessed beyond human measure - but only if we believe and fully trust and act in The Word, the same Word which “was in the beginning”, the same Word revealed at Mt. Sinai, the same Word “which became flesh”.  The Eternal – and unchanging – Word.


In the Holy and Eternal Name, and according to the Living Word, let the people of the Church declare, “Amen” – “let it be so”.

Monday, April 06, 2015

Easter 2015: "What we see"

Mark 16:1-8
Nehemiah 8:1-10

"Let everyone count themselves immortal.  Let everyone catch the revelation of Jesus in His Resurrection.  Let them say not only, ‘Christ is risen’; let them also say, ‘I shall one day be raised!’”  Phillips Brooks, 19th-century Episcopal priest & bishop

It is one thing to remember the Resurrection of Messiah from a safe distance; that Jesus was murdered and has come back to life.  That is a “surface” observation – not untrue, of course, but it barely scratches the surface of the whole Story.  We have to get much closer in order to appreciate the depth and the breadth of all there is to see.  As the 19th-century priest and bishop had observed, we are witnessing much more than the Resurrection of Messiah.

There is also a challenge for those who dare to hope to “one day be raised”.

The psalmist observes, “The Lord exists forever; Your Word is firmly fixed in Heaven” (119:89).  The psalmist also writes, “If Your law (Word) had not been my delight, I would have perished in my misery” (119:92).  St. John’s Gospel then introduces Jesus by proclaiming “The [same] Word became flesh and lived among us … [that same Word] full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

We are indeed witnessing much more than the Resurrection of a Man.  The Bible records more than one whose life had been miraculously restored not only by Jesus.  So the “more” we must learn to see is what the discipline of Lent and Holy Week reveals to us when we participate faithfully.  The “more” must be desired and actively sought after as we move through the Easter season and beyond.

We are beginning to see the “more” as Jesus marched to Golgotha despite His desire to “have this cup taken from [Him]” (Luke 22:42), but we have to draw near enough that His prayer in the Garden becomes our own.  We must be willing to experience His anguish for ourselves as He pleaded for His own life (which was denied Him, incidentally, for something greater), and we must ourselves sweat His “sweat as drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44). 

These things – without exception – must come before there can be a “resurrection” of any kind.  As our Methodist tradition maintains, we cannot jump straight from Birth (Christmas) to Resurrection without having first experienced death – and I do not mean only the “casket” death we will all face.

Somewhere along the way the Church has collectively suffered from what Bible scholar and theologian Walter Brueggemann calls “progressive amnesia”.  That is, the more enlightened we think we are, the more we think we know, the more “progressive” we think ourselves to have become, the further away we have roamed from the very simple and yet profound and Eternal Truth. 

We must first die to self.  We must first freely surrender our flesh and its desires, and submit fully and unreservedly to The Living Word which is Chris because it is written in Galatians, “The flesh craves anything that is opposed to the Spirit and the Spirit craves anything opposed to the flesh, for they both are contrary to one another” (5:17).  The Spirit and the flesh are not in any manner compatible.

In our “progressive amnesia”, however, we have managed to convince ourselves we can somehow be both fully alive in our flesh with all its worldly desires and demands, and still be somehow fully alive in the Spirit.  The reality of “progressive amnesia” reveals that our “first love” experiences have faded, and the “marriage” between the Bridegroom, who is Christ, and the Bride, which is the Church, has been dangerously neglected to the point of “irreconcilable differences”.

Evangelism is a $20 word few in the Church really understand – or care to understand.  We think (or prefer) it be a task reserved only for a select few who are specifically called and gifted to this ministry of “making outsiders into insiders” (Brueggemann), but that is not correct.  It is the Task of the Whole and Holy Church to not only “make outsiders into insiders” but to also “summon insiders to [restored] memory” (Brueggemann).

In order to recapture this memory, then, the sense and urgency of evangelism must be re-envisioned and reawakened in “perfect submission” – not “progressively” but faithfully and consistently.  There is no component of the Church, no program, no committee – NONE – that can be separated from the essential mission of the Church which is evangelism – TELLING the Good News.  Family life, membership care, even administrative and finance functions must all work toward the task of evangelism – both inside the church and out. 

But before we can – or should even try – to recapture that urgency, we must be willing to see everything in the Resurrection of Messiah there is to see … because we cannot tell it if we never saw it – and we cannot share it if we refuse to experience it ourselves.

During the rebuilding period of Ezra/Nehemiah, the people of Israel were being reminded of what “progressive amnesia” had done to them.  The restoration of Jerusalem and the Temple as the central feature of their being as the people of The Lord would not only require a lot of hard work and devotion to the task at hand, but they would also have to have their memory restored.  They had to distance themselves from their present reality in order to reconnect to their past, find their roots, and learn to stand on the foundation long established and still present – but long forgotten. 

The Rebuild / Reconnect / Restore Process required – and requires still - that The Word of The Lord be “resurrected”, in a manner of speaking – not “progressively” adjusted or modified to fit the times – because the “times”, such as they are, are fleeting and passing.  The Word is to be embraced, lived, and experienced as though there is no other Way (as Jesus is The Way) – indeed for the faithful there is no other way as it is undeniably written, “Your Word, O Lord, is firmly fixed in Heaven.”  That is, Eternal and thus unchanging.

The challenge of the Church is that this same Word must be “firmly fixed” and faithfully lived to the bitter end “on earth as it is in Heaven” – even at the expense of our own lives, our own “sweat as drops of blood”.

The Resurrection reveals and promises much more than the mere restoration of the body.  We will witness the “glorified form” of the Body of Christ in its perfection – having given His all without ever lashing out, striking back, or making personal demands.  Living the Word, BEING the Word.  It is The Resurrected Word perfected in Jesus’ faithfulness which has been raised to Glory.  It is the Eternal Word which “is seated at the Right Hand of The Almighty God”.  It is the Eternal Word which will come to “judge the living and the dead” (as in, “Lord, Lord, did we not?” … “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practiced lawlessness”).


The enduring love of our Eternal God and Savior is the Resurrection of the Eternal Word “firmly fixed” on earth in Messiah – and in His disciples.  The profound Love in that Word would not – could not – be buried even by those who once rejected that Word according to the desires of the flesh.  What we see – if we dare to look – is that Word which is by its very nature indestructible in its faithfulness!  As will be all who embrace and experience this Word as their very own “delight”!!  AMEN.

A Thought, 6 April 2015

“The same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the religious leaders, Jesus came and stood in the midst and said to them, ‘Peace be with you’.  When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side.  Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.  So Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace to you!  As the Father has sent Me, I also send you’.  And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained’.”  John 20:19-23 NKJV

“He is risen!” 

The familiar Easter mantra.  It is what we celebrate.  That which we usually refer to as “the final resting place” (the grave) is apparently not so final after all.  Jesus was killed, He was buried, and then He was raised from the grave.  The fat lady has not yet sung!

Still, what does it mean to us?  There are theological and doctrinal answers as to what we are told it is supposed to mean, but that does not answer what it actually means to the individual.  Depending on whom we ask, we will get all kinds of answers; but it usually falls on the side of “excuse”. 

“It means I don’t have to go to church.”

“It means I don’t have to obey The Lord’s Law.”

“It means I don’t have to do the religious thing.”

“It means I don’t have to do anything I don’t feel like doing.”

The tiresome list goes on for us, and it is all true; we don’t have to do anything.  Yet the disciples were not given much time to come up with their list of things they no longer “have to” do.  Hiding in fear for having been associated with this “blasphemer”, these guys were not thinking of lists.  In their fear they were trying to process what Mary Magdalene had come from the empty tomb to share (John 20:18).   Just as they were trying to wrap their minds around Mary’s report and all they had likely heard also from Peter and John, probably asking themselves what it all means, Jesus showed up and told them exactly what it means:  “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”

With the Gift of the Holy Spirit and authority from Above to deal with the real power of sin, the Church has been so commissioned.  Not “these guys” or “some guys” – THE CHURCH, the Body of Christ!  According to the One who had been sent, all who claim allegiance are so sent.

It is past time to get over this notion of what The Resurrection means to “me”.  One’s personal witness, while important but when separated from the whole of the Church, becomes disconnected from the “Vine” (John 15:5).  Once the “branch” is completely disengaged from the Body (the “Vine”), it begins to wither and can no longer bear “fruit”.

We have not been saved from anything (even though we are “being saved”, 1 Corinthians 1:18); we have been called to something much greater, much bigger than self, much more important than simply “me”! 

Jesus was no “lone ranger” nor was He seeking “lone rangers”, so we should not fool ourselves into believing we are a church unto ourselves.  There is so much more for us, but we have to want it enough to reach for it.  So reach! 

Blessings,
Michael

Friday, April 03, 2015

Holy Week thoughts: Good Friday 2015

“What more to give – or take?”

“I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint.  My heart is like wax; it has melted within me.  My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue clings to my jaw.  You have brought me to the dust of death.  Dogs have surrounded me; the congregation of the wicked has enclosed me.”  Psalm 22:14-16a

Do you ever have those days when, no matter how right you try to do, someone seems determined to undermine you?  Or you make an honest mistake, and you are still raked over the coals?  Even in the church, those whom you thought to be your fellow workers and friends turn on you and seem to go out of their way to make sure even those outside the Church should come and try to get a piece of you?

In nearly every church across the land, there are what are known as “clergy killers” who come in many different forms.  It seems to be their lot to make life and ministry for the pastor as miserable as possible.  It doesn't really matter whether there is a particular issue at stake for the church.  It is the “clergy killer’s” mission in life to make the pastor’s life as uncomfortable as possible – and often for reasons not fully known or justified.  Sadly, very often the church remains silent, figuring it’s none of their business – or in the vain hope it will go away. 

Yet it is not just clergy and family who suffer.  The entire church suffers when that “killer’s” friends pretend allegiance to the “killer” by refusing to participate in the life of that particular church, but the reality is they are staying away because of the toxicity advocated and joyfully spread by that “killer”.  They cannot be sure whether or when that “killer” will turn his or her guns on them!  Sign up for that??  Only a fool would knowingly and willfully walk into such a poisoned environment.

By now Jesus is facing the very same thing.  Those who were once His “friends” have become “killers”.  Not the religious leaders who were never His friends nor the secular authorities to whom Jesus was handed.  These may be directly at fault for Jesus’ crucifixion, but those indirectly involved must not be so easily let off the hook.

Simon Wiesenthal, in his book, “The Sunflower”, asked the haunting question he observed during his time as a Jewish POW in Nazi-occupied Poland: “who is the guiltier; the one who directly commits the sin or the one who turns a deliberate blind eye to a known sin and remains silent?”  The throng of people who were demanding Jesus be crucified had once hailed His entry into Jerusalem as though He were a conquering hero; now only a few days later they wanted Him dead.

What makes “believers” turn so easily to the point of intentional destruction of another human being?  Is such hatred possible in the heart of one who claims to have been “saved”?  Whether or not they were “really” saved is too easily ascertained when these individuals turn so foul, but it still does not explain why we humans – even Christians – seem to take such perverse delight in “bringing someone down” by going along with these foul and hateful persons – or worse -  remaining silent by refusing to confront these “killers”.

These are the compelling questions of Good Friday.  If we are “rejoicing” on such a dark day, even with biblical hindsight on the value of Jesus’ blood, there may be our first clue as to how we can turn so easily.  The question is left, however: how far are we willing to go to satisfy our own insatiable thirst for blood?

The Lord alone knows.      
Michael                                                                                                                                                                                          

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Holy Week Thoughts, Thursday 2 April 2015

“An Anointing”

John 13:1-17

This familiar passage is the account of Jesus washing the feet of His disciples.  They are gathered in the Upper Room and are preparing for the Passover, but Jesus does this foot washing thing first, this act of complete humility and submission in order to show that “a servant is not greater than his master, nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him” (John 13:16).  In other words, Jesus says, ‘If I can do this thing, you can do no less’.

In the midst of Holy Week when we should be focusing on Jesus’ final days on this earth, it is a crying shame that Arkansas Christians have gotten entirely too caught up in the political and social upheaval caused by the controversial SB 1228, “The Religious Freedom Restoration Act” (it is not important what I think about the bill.  If you care to know what it actually says, read it for yourself).  It has been approved by the Arkansas Senate and is currently making its rounds in the Arkansas House.  The governor has expressed his intent to sign the bill, and there is much “wailing and gnashing of teeth”.

It is written in the Proverbs, “Sometimes there is a way that seems to be right, but in the end it is the way of death” (16:25).  To refuse commercial service to same-gender couples based upon religious objections to their lifestyle is a sticky wicket.  Even though the proprietors of commercial ventures may be religiously devout persons, they may still face legal challenges because of the commercial nature of their business.  This, however, is not the challenge we should be so concerned with.  Rather the real challenge is in Jesus’ act in today’s Gospel reading.

To reserve the right to refuse service to anyone based on one’s own religious ideal is dangerous territory especially in the context of the Gospel reading.  Peter thought he had the right idea when he tried to resist Jesus’ act, but in fact he missed the point entirely.  “You call Me Teacher and Lord and you say well, for so I am.  If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have given you an example, that you should do I have done to you” (John 13:13-15 NKJV).

Jesus also said, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me” (vs 8b).

This act of humility and submission is not about condoning or embracing lifestyles we deem objectionable.  It is entirely about what lies before us.  It is an anointing of the disciples to “do as I have done to you”.  Our mission is in the hospitality of the Covenant we claim to believe and embrace.  “For whatever you do to the least of these, you do to Me”.  It is not about political or social objections; it is about genuine religious devotion and appropriate expression.  This week especially, it is about being mindful of what is unfolding in the Passion of the Messiah, what Jesus believed necessary to leave with and entrust to us.

To be clear, I am opposed to same-gender marriage within the Church because I believe the Scriptures and the Spirit, not the interpreters with a social agenda or a false notion of “love”.  If this makes me a narrow-minded, knuckle-dragging, mouth-breathing, sister-marrying back-woods hick in the sight of others, so be it.  This is not to say, however, that I will refuse to allow anyone to worship or receive the Sacraments of the Church nor will I refuse to serve anyone a plate at the church potluck because I find their lifestyle objectionable.  To do so while overlooking my own sin, the other idolaters, adulterers, fornicators, and gamblers, is to miss the “baptism” which comes from Jesus’ desire to serve “as an example”.

It is about neither condoning nor condemning.  It is about Christ and the “example” He gave us not by telling us what to do but by showing us how to do it and why.  If we do not get that, no legislation will help.


Michael