Monday, August 25, 2014

A Thought

“Moses said to The Lord, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?’  The Lord said, ‘I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship The Lord on this mountain’.”  Exodus 3:11-12

“Who am I” to do this wondrous, awesome, and overwhelming thing in the name of The Lord?  Who are any of us, really, when we think about what could be a life-changing transformation in which we are the Divine Tools, that The Lord would choose us and ask of us to reach out to His people?

Even trying to wrap our minds around such a thing is too much!  Yet a quick glance at the headlines in this state, in this country, and especially around the world we can easily see the need to be released from the bonds and shackles of this world are great.  And clearly The Lord means for His creation to be set free from the “empire” of the world that keeps us from getting closer to The Lord.  Yet this is the reality, a reality even the most faithful among us can often struggle with: a God who would go to such great lengths to do such wondrous things – and then choose little ol’ me … or you.  “Who am I”, indeed!

Whenever the task before The Church gets a little too big to wrap my own mind around, I always think of Mother Teresa’s great quote: “If you cannot feed 100 hungry persons, it’s ok; just feed one!”  That is, as great as the needs are in this crazy world, we each only need to touch one other of our neighbors – not to give them some empty religious formula that does not speak to their anguish, but to touch their lives in an intimate and fully giving way. 

That is the power of The Church.  Even though big churches can do big things and little churches can do little things, in the end it is the little things that matter most.  Not world-class entertainment, not charismatic preachers, and not even the great music we share.  No, it is the neighbor whose life is touched by “you” – as only “you” can. 

We may not believe we have much to offer, but we all have something to offer.  And so offer it we must because we realize that what we have to offer was never really ours in the first place.  It was entrusted to us for the sake of another.  Just as Jesus’ life was entrusted to Him so He could offer His life to others, it is no less true of those who choose to follow Him.

Yes, the little things matter and probably matter more than the rest.  And we all have it to share; the only decision left is whether we will.  “Who am I?”  And our Lord answers, “You are exactly what the world needs right here, and right now.” 

Blessings,

Michael

Fast Forward: haste makes waste

Ecclesiastes 8:11-13
Romans 8:18-25
Luke 8:4-8, 11-15

"Many are the plans in one's heart, but it is The Lord's plan that prevails."  Jewish proverb

Last weekend we moved Emily (our youngest) back to Fayetteville to get ready for another school year and decided to swing over to Horseshoe Bend to see Gracyn (our first grandchild).  There was no real hurry to either as we had all the time in the world but after Emily was settled and there was nothing left to do and her friend and roommate had arrived, I decided it was time to leave.  Emily understood we had a long drive, but she was not quite ready for us to go.  So we walked around the campus and enjoyed the nice weather while Emily showed us her class buildings, but after the tour I finally decided it was really time to go.  I had a plan, you see, that was not quite finished.

Driving from Fayetteville to Horseshoe Bend is almost all skinny roads with only a few miles of four-lane highway.  Much of the drive is narrow and winding, which means you will go only as fast as the car in front of you.  APPARENTLY there were several folks that day who were not in any big hurry to get anywhere.  I tried to slow my roll, but for me there is nothing worse than being forced to drive substantially below the speed limit - especially when I'm on a quest!  By the time we got to Horseshoe Bend, I had a headache that would have split the California coast!

What really made the drive so incredibly challenging, however, was not strictly those who were obviously enjoying their drive.  What was really bugging me was the remarkable guilt I felt for once again "leaving" baby girl - AND maybe leaving her too soon, leaving something undone.  We didn't have to leave when we did because there was still plenty of daylight and, as I said earlier, we didn't have to be anywhere at any particular time.  But because everything that needed to be done for Emily was done, I marked that thing off my mental list-of-things-to-do and was ready to move on to the next phase of "my" plan.

While I was nurturing my headache, I started thinking about a movie entitled "Click".  A young, ambitious architect who was trying to make a name for himself always put his family aside in favor of work projects he hoped would score him professional points.  When he finally crashed one night due to fatigue and a bad cold, he had a dream that he was given a universal remote control that would control not just his TV but his whole environment.  He could mute his wife while she was yelling at him for neglecting his family, or he could fast forward through a family gathering so he could get back to work. 

An added "feature" of this remote was that once he used it under certain circumstances, the remote would automatically program his future circumstances based on the choices he made.  Long story short, he missed his children growing up, he missed a chance to say "I love you" to his beloved father before his father passed, and he missed all his chances to rebuild his family and his marriage which he had neglected for so long.  Because he was always in such a rush, he missed what were perhaps the greatest moments he would have known in his life for someone else's sake; those who needed what only he could provide.  Oh, he found the success he had coveted at work, but he lost everything else.  He had wished the best parts of his life away.

In keeping with our theme series of "becoming better disciples, and making disciples who make disciples", then, I thought about Jesus' parable of the sower and the seed but not quite in the standard, traditional way.  While each segment of the parable has its own purposes to show us where The Word of The Lord is in our lives and how important that Word is to us, I still get a sense of a sower who is in far too big of a hurry for his own good and for the greater Divine purpose he was to serve. 

This begs the question as it pertains to "making disciples": Are we truly interested in planting the Good Seed in good soil for a good harvest, or are we just in a hurry to carelessly throw the seeds out, convince ourselves we have accomplished something, and just hope for the best?  That is, assuming we have any real concern about and reverence for the necessary sacred work of the Church at all - because if we do not because we are in too big of a hurry in other areas of our lives, I am afraid we are missing out on what could be some of the greatest moments of our lives, to provide perhaps what only we can provide.

I don't know that spending more time in Fayetteville with Emily would have made a difference one way or the other, but she was our primary purpose.  The more I think about it, the more I am convinced we left something important undone because I was in too big of a hurry to do everything else.

We should understand by now that The Word cannot and will not come from a void - it will not spring forth from nothing, and haste will not help.  This means we will rarely make disciples of those with whom there is no real human, relational connection.  They may "make a decision for Christ" in a moment of emotional distress and we may think we got something "done" in that hasty moment but if we are unwilling to nurture that relationship, tend to that "soil", and see it through to fruition, the Good Seed we do have will have been dropped on the rocks or in the thorns.  And yes, dear friends, this includes our children and grandchildren who are not given a proper and formal religious education.  That is very much a part of spiritual nurture.

There are great needs fulfilled in careful nurture and patience.  The Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:26-37 needed Philip who had been sent by the Holy Spirit to explain to him what he was reading in the prophet Isaiah about the coming Messiah.  The people who joined the new community of faith in the early chapters of Acts needed one another AND the "teachings of the apostles" (Acts 2:42) in order to grow in the faith and in community.  So the world still needs the Church - for the Seed itself is good; it is the soil which must be carefully prepared and nurtured for the Seed to take root.  This takes time and patience - but it also takes effort.

Every effort toward making disciples who make disciples must involve careful planning, purposeful prayer and Scripture study, intentional purpose of nurture, and a willingness to engage these potential new friends and future disciples in a life-altering way.  We know (or should know) we have the Good Seed; it has been entrusted to the care of the Holy Church.  What we may not know is how well-prepared the "soil" is to receive that Good Seed.  And this is our task.

The only way to know of the condition of the soil, then, is to get intimately familiar with the soil, to get dirt under our nails!  We have to get to know our neighbors, we cannot be afraid to get next to strangers, and we must never pretend there will ever be a political solution to the challenges the Church faces.  In fact, our Lord - and history - warn us that politics will always be more of a hindrance than a help when it comes to evangelism; that is what "making disciples" entails - because anyone can "preach" the Gospel, but it takes a disciple to make disciples.  Our Lord did not charge us to 'save souls'; He commissioned His Church to "make disciples".

So we must be patient - BUT - we must also have a sense of urgency about the task which is before us.  We must not be led to believe it is "someone else's" responsibility, and we can never become convinced the task can be "hired out", and we certainly must never, EVER think it will "just happen".  We signed up when we asked to become "members" of the Church.

Looking around at the world we face, dear friends, I am not entirely convinced it is strictly about "getting to Heaven" as much as it is trying to make for ourselves a better world - for our children, our grandchildren, and for others who cannot do for themselves.  As we are taught in the Scriptures, there will always be someone in need, someone in poverty; and there is no more profound poverty than to be destitute of human interaction and of the Living Word of the Living God in His Messiah.

A Jewish theologian once wrote that only when we perform the "desires of God" will there one day be no longer anyone in need.  The entire Torah (what we mistakenly and shallowly refer to as "law") is about relational connections, community of faith, and looking after one another.  This is what makes good soil.  There will be challenges and I guarantee there will be conflicts and heartaches; but if The Church is not after the "desires of God", there is no Church - only a void from which nothing of lasting value can come.

What we fail to appreciate, I think, is that the goodness which is before us is in every one of the challenges, each of the conflicts and heartaches.  We need not try to fast-forward through these moments or even try to avoid them altogether in our haste for "goodness" - for in doing so, we will truly miss what could be some of the greatest moments of our lives, the life of the Church, and the lives of those who will be transformed by our efforts AND the Holy Spirit. 


So let us go about our work as "sowers".  We have the Good Seed; what we must find, what we must develop is the Good Soil so the Seed will grow.  For His Glory, and in His Name.  Amen.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

A Thought

“There will be no one in need among you because The Lord is sure to bless you in the land that The Lord your God is giving you as a possession to occupy, if only you will obey The Lord your God by diligently observing this entire commandment that I command you today.”  Deuteronomy 15:4-5

Then we read only a few verses later; “If there is among you anyone in need …” (Deut 15:7) and then later still, “Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth …” (Deut 15:11).

Jesus affirms this in Matthew’s Gospel; “You have the poor with you always …” (26:11)

As stated earlier in the week, we must always look more carefully into the full context as well as understand that, like wealth, “poor” is relative.  We believe we have a pretty good bead on what it means to be poor very likely because we live in a culture that measures happiness and success in dollars and cents.  We do not always take into consideration those who are “poor in spirit”.  What we can be certain of is that The Lord has assured us blessings we cannot begin to fathom if we will be faithful to Him always – not only when it suits us or when we need a tax write-off.

So how do we consider that The Lord says “there will be no one in need” on the one hand, but on the other hand says, “IF there is among you anyone in need …” and then finally, “You have the poor with you always …” 

A Jewish theologian observes that “only when we perform the desires of G-d” will there be no one in need.  So what does it mean to us if we are truly after the heart of the Holy Father?  That we are always aware of His “desires” and seek to fulfill those desires just as He has fulfilled our profound need to be freed so we can live to our fullest and sacred potential.  It means seeing through His eyes those who are poor (financially and spiritually), marginalized by society, victims of injustice, or just plain lonely or afraid. 

The reality is there will always be those among us who are poor, but the sacred ideal is that there should “be no one in need among you because” we realize how richly blessed we truly are.  And this, I think, is the key to understanding why The Lord is so generous to those who obey Him and seek after His holy “desires”; it is so we can help to take care of those who cannot care for themselves.  This is what it means to live in community, and it is the essence of what it means to be The Church – the Body of the Risen Christ, the Living Word.

One Christian writer observed recently that we’ve gotten pretty good at looking at the window (that is, getting entirely wrapped up in the necessary personal component of our relationship with The Lord) but have not yet learned how to look through the window and see the wider world through the eyes of our Lord.  But we take heart because this is what it means to seek after spiritual “perfection” in sanctification – as we grow in faith and in love and learn to see the world as our Lord sees it AND as our Lord “desires” us to see it for His sake.  For He has not given up on us; so shall we never give up on Him and His beloved creation.

Blessings,

Michael

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A Thought

“How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the Kingdom of God!  For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God!”  Luke 18:24-25

Jesus had just been approached by the “rich young ruler” who had asked, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?”  Jesus begins by quoting Torah in citing some of the commandments.  Satisfied with himself, the young ruler replied that he had been faithful and obedient since his youth.  Then Jesus upped the ante by tell this young man that “you still lack one thing; sell all you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  Then come and follow Me.” 

Too often we read this passage so literally that we miss the overall meaning, and what we overlook most often is the definition of “rich” (“he was very rich”).  Most of us do not consider ourselves “very rich” in terms of material possessions, cash accounts, etc.; so we tend to let ourselves off the hook.  In this passage, however, “rich” is relative and challenges us all to take into account what we do have, however much or little there may be.  The bottom line is that no one is given a pass by our Lord!

There is a saying, “All we have is a gift from God; what we do with what we have in our gift to God.”  This applies to our excess (if any) as well as to the “meat and potatoes” of our budgets.  And if our primary focus in our budgeting is self-satisfaction, self-preservation, or especially self-glorification, we are misusing what we have.  In such a state of mind and being, then, we would just as likely be the ones walking away “sorrowful” because we are unwilling to reevaluate our lives, our budgets, our giving, our spending habits. 

And this is where the passages strikes at the heart of the entire Church.  To read this passage literally, all our wealth is to be sold and the proceeds given to the poor.  Again, however, what is the measure of “wealth”?  And exactly what constitutes “poor”?  This is what I believe we are being challenged to evaluate.  Would we give up everything we have to obtain the eternal treasure that is the Kingdom?  Or have we fallen victim to a cheesy and empty religious belief that has given us permission to overlook this and so many other passages as “excused”?  That Jesus is not talking to “us” because we’re “saved”, or He wants us to be happy, and that material wealth is the source of our happiness as evidence of Divine Love?

Finally, what can we take with us as we “follow” Jesus?  Can we really be free to “follow” Him burdened with all we have or all we hope to have?  Do we believe we can have our cake and eat it, too?  Because this is our Lord’s challenge to each and every soul – without exception.  So if we become “sorrowful” or defensive in being asked to give up our worldly treasures for the sake of another or if we decide He does not mean “me”, we’ve already missed the point and are blinded to the reality of the Kingdom of God.

We must open our eyes and our hearts to the reality that there is still much for us to learn.  Nothing is settled until the Lord returns to settle all accounts, in which time “the last will be first, and the first will be last”. 

Study the Scriptures.  Pray earnestly for direction.  Be assured the Lord has given no one a pass, and be assured that the Lord does need YOU.  He always has.

Blessings,

Michael

Monday, August 18, 2014

A Thought

“Be strong and courageous.  Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”   Joshua 1:9

Back to school.  For some it is pretty exciting; for others it is downright intimidating.  Anything new and unfamiliar must be approached carefully and with due respect because of what is certainly unknown at least in the beginning. 

Joshua was about to lead Israel into the Promised Land.  Moses was no longer with them, so it is easy to imagine the people and even Joshua to be a little disoriented and uncertain about what is ahead of them.  Moses had led Israel for 40 years, so they had become accustomed to certain ways in terms of journey.  Now they were about to settle in a land which was already occupied.  Later spies would report “giants” in the land! 

The Lord needed to assure Joshua, however, that even though Moses had been the leader for so long, it was actually the Lord and His Covenant which the people had become a part of during that long 40 years.  Moses’ time had passed just as others had passed during the long journey, but the Lord was still with them in the new chapter that was about to unfold.

These words of encouragement were spoken to Joshua within a specific context, but we may also be assured by these same words as we enter into a new realm of possibilities.  Children will meet new teachers, make new friends, and learn new things; and teachers will be faced with the new challenges that come with so many new and different personalities (as well as new state mandates!).  And all will be uncertain about how it will all come together.

The Lord did not give Joshua any real clues about what the new land would look like with the people of Israel, but the Lord was clear about what it could look like if they tried to face the new land and new challenges without the Lord.  And this is the essence of what it means to live by faith; being unsure about what lies ahead, but being absolutely assured the “Lord your God is with you wherever you go”.   As long as we “go” with the Lord and in the Lord’s Name.

Blessings on all new teachers, experienced teachers, and students!  Be strong and courageous, for the Lord is with you!


Michael

Monday, August 04, 2014

Making disciples: relationships

Hebrews 11:32-12:2

“Progress should mean that we are always changing the world to fit the vision; instead we are always changing the vision.”  G.K. Chesterton

"Living in community requires commitment, responsibility, and accountability to and for all its members."  UMC Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball, WV

In other words, living in community requires "relationships"; real attachments to one another.  So I believe we can agree relationships are the foundation of any community; and while the marital relationship should top the list (it grounds the family, stabilizes our society, and teaches children about the importance of relationship, earnest commitment, and appropriate examples of love), there are other relationships we must necessarily take note of.

In the coming weeks we will examine relationships and how these relationships inform us, teach us, nurture us, comfort us, and whenever necessary, correct us - all for the sake of "making disciples".  So if we are involved in any type of relationship that does not strengthen our sense of community as The Body of Christ, it is probably a relationship best left unattended. 

As it has so often been said, there is no such thing as a life without sacred value - value not only to The Lord and His Church but to society as a whole - including those incarcerated.  Everyone has purpose, and every life has meaning.  In fact it has been inferred by theologians and sociologists that the value of our own lives is intimately and intrinsically connected to the value we assign to the lives of others.  So as we seek to enrich the lives of others by affirming their sacred worth, our own sacred worth is affirmed as well.

Before we can examine the relationships we enjoy today and the relationships worth pursuing, however, I believe there is a much broader relationship we are part of as The Church, a relationship we often take for granted.  It is the relationship which exists primarily in the Scriptures, connections to our common past in the "great cloud of witnesses" (Heb 12:1).  And as we often take these biblical "giants" for granted, we certainly do not take note of spiritual heroes (often referred to as "saints") who helped to shape, teach, and clarify the fullest meaning of The Gospel through the life of The Church.

Pope Francis is getting a lot of attention because he does not fit the typical "pope profile".  He is more easily accessible than many of his predecessors, and he seems willing to answer questions without preparation.  And while he is often misunderstood (who isn't?) because his remarks are often taken out of context (whose aren't??), or something gets lost in the language translations, when read carefully he is forthright and intentional about faith, community, The Lord, The Church, and the sacred value of every living creature - including Protestants! - and human institutions ... another example of the many relationships we often take for granted.

Pope Francis was especially taken to task (and ultimately misunderstood) by so many conservative "talking heads" when the pope released his encyclical, "The Joy of the Gospel" (English translation), which addressed economic issues as well as others - all relative to how we deal with one another.  The pope was chastised as a "socialist" because, while he lifted up business as "a noble vocation", he nevertheless challenged people of business to look beyond profit margins and embrace their responsibility to the Kingdom of Heaven, emphasizing the "social function" of property beyond that which is primarily considered "private" and available only to the highest bidder.

This understanding of human relationships which appreciates the value of good business is the same accountability that chastises us when we seek to exploit any human person in any manner for the sake of profit margin.  So even in business, that seemingly most heartless of human institutions that focuses primarily on numbers and money, it is still about "relationships".  The pope rightly questioned, "How is it not news when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is [big] news when the stock market drops two points?"

When Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected as the Bishop of Rome, he took for himself the name "Francis" in honor of 12th-century St. Francis of Assisi who was canonized (declared a saint) in the 13th century.  What is so note-worthy of St. Francis for the pope and the contemporary Church is not only his deliberate "conversion" from a life of wealth and privilege to a life of poverty and service, but also a vision he encountered at a country chapel just outside of Assisi (Italy) in which Messiah told him to "go and repair My house which, as you can see, has fallen into ruins."

It is said that St. Francis first took this vision to mean that particular church where he was praying and its physical well-being.  Using his father's resources, then, he restored that chapel (against his father's wishes); but this is when the final straw came by which St. Francis fully and completely renounced his family's wealth, and even the clothing on his very back which had come from that wealth.

Without going into a lot of historical detail, it is enough to know that from this moment in St. Francis' life, he devoted his entire being to The Lord and to The Church, understanding that to "repair" The Lord's house did not strictly mean its physical structures.  "The House" to which the Lord referred was "the Church"; that is, the Body of Christ, the community of faith. 

In this "repair", the relationships often marginalized in society were (and still are) in desperate need of rebuilding and restoring.  St. Francis chose to restore from the "bottom" of the social barrel.  This vision is shared by Pope Francis who believes it is the necessary vision and task of The Holy Church.

These deliberate and faithful choices made by a man who "had it all" at one time are sufficient for St. Francis and many others to be included in the "great cloud of witnesses"; up there with Noah, Abraham, Moses, and King David, to name only a few.  These and so many more had the strength and courage borne of faith that reminded them - as we are to be reminded - that our lives, however grand or seemingly inconsequential, belong to the Kingdom of Heaven - meaning we belong to one another. 

Including Jesus in this company of the "great cloud", however, takes a turn we are not entirely comfortable with, if at all.  St. Francis did not have a vision of Moses or King David.  St. Francis' vision was entirely about Messiah and all Messiah would ask of him in "running with perseverance the race which is set" before us all; the same race set before The Church, Christ in the world today.

This "race" is entirely about "community" and relationships which anchor the community in all that matters, all that really makes a difference in our lives - or more importantly, all that will make a difference in the lives of those whom we consider to be ... beneath us.  St. Francis was once at the top of the social order, but he soon found himself dangerously entangled with the trappings of "empire" rather than the blessings of "kingdom".  St. Francis chose The Kingdom by choosing the "least among us".

Pope Francis seems to be following in that very Franciscan ideal of "repairing" The Lord's House (even though this is the first Jesuit pope), but not strictly the buildings.  This pope has challenged the very institution which was once in its great and rightful heritage socially scandalous and radical in obedience to The Lord and in faithfulness to the Gospel; "scandalous" in rejecting the social norms of a secular society, and "radical" in welcoming all, especially those who did not seem to belong anywhere else. 

It is not necessary to try and reinvent the wheel.  It is the relationship shared by the biblical giants as well as the saints of the past we must reconnect with, embrace, and build upon.  It is The Relationship which has endured much persecution and has withstood many attempts to undermine or even destroy it.  It must also be noted that no one who kept to themselves in their personal spirituality was ever at personal risk for the sake of the Gospel.  The risk always comes from within active, dynamic relationships; the risk to love completely rather than socially, conditionally. 


Relationships matter; but new relationships must be built upon from the "great cloud of witnesses" that has faithfully blazed the trail, each connected to the other in The Lord; for it is our past that connects us to our future.  Amen.  

A Thought

“When [The Lord] summoned famine against the land and broke every staff of bread, He had sent a man ahead of them, Joseph, who was sold as a slave.  He feet were hurt with fetters, his neck was put in a collar of iron; until what he had said came to pass, the word of The Lord kept testing him” (Psalm 105:16-19).

In the Genesis story (37:1-28), Joseph was the source of much resentment from his older brothers not only because he was Jacob’s favored one but also because “Joseph brought a bad report of [his brothers] to their father” (Gen 37:2).  In other words, Joseph was a snitch!  Joseph was also a dreamer who had rather lofty visions of his own future, a vision that would come to fruition in which his brothers – and the well-being of the Covenant – would be dependent on what The Lord would do with and for Joseph in the future.  Needless to say, it took years before Joseph was able to realize The Lord had chosen him for a very special task.

Clearly Joseph was favored also in the eyes of The Lord but not strictly for Joseph’s personal sake.  Rather The Lord had His eye on the whole of Israel and His own Covenant with Abraham; Joseph would become an instrument of survival for the sake of the Covenant and the people of The Lord.  This, I think, is an element of the whole of the redemption story often overlooked especially in today’s Christian context.  We have allowed a few prominent TV preachers to convince some that when bad things happen to them, they are the result of one of two things: a) their faith is insufficient, or b) the devil is out to get them.  Neither is adequate (or even true) when measured against the biblical heroes who endured maltreatment far beyond anything you or I could imagine today, being “tested” as they were for The Lord’s purposes.

“Consider it pure joy … whenever you face trial of many kinds, because you know the testing of your faith produces perseverance” (James 1:2-3).  When we are tested, then, our allegiance to The Lord is not necessarily what is on the line.  Rather we are perhaps being prepared for something much greater, something that will involve the well-being of the Church herself!  Either way, the fidelity of The Lord and His greater purposes are the key component of the trials we face.

We must not allow a select few to convince us “the devil is out to get us”.  Maybe he is, but the one thing we can be certain of is that The Lord is with His Church, “even to the end of the age”.  This assurance makes that devil thing laughable.

If we feel our faith being pressed and seemingly tested beyond our capacity to endure, we must remember The Lord’s much grander purposes and stop believing the idle chit-chat of religionists who make things up as they go almost completely independent of what is actually written in the Scriptures.  We are not now, nor will we ever be, “victims” because of the Gospel.  We are now, and will ever be, “agents” of The Good News!  Because The Almighty loves our unbelieving neighbor as much as He loves His Church.

Blessings,

Michael

Thursday, July 31, 2014

A Thought

“Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean.  Remove the evil of your doings from before My eyes.  Cease to do evil, learn to do good.  Seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow”  (Isaiah 1:16-17).

“Isaiah was a realist. Though he was convinced of the truth of his message, he expected the people to be able to hear the message the first time, but not necessarily able to understand its importance and follow it readily. Old habits are not easily changed.”

“Much like the Israelites, we also find our ears are dulled to the message. That is why Isaiah comes to us. Isaiah intends to be our hearing aid. Isaiah wishes to help us perceive the silent sigh, to amplify the message that is an octave too high, and bring it down to a level to which we can not only hear it, but also pay attention to it in a way that will call us to action.”

“Isaiah's warning is not meant to be depressing, but inspirational. He notes that IF we can hear the message to act in a good and just manner, we can turn the course of our world around. By learning to do good, devoting ourselves to justice, and looking out for those who cannot look out for themselves, we can find our world transformed. Only when we transform our hearing into understanding and action, can the heavens and the  earth be glad and rejoice.”  Rabbi Matt Dreffin

So our United Methodist mantra to “make disciples for the transformation of the world” must first involve our own transformations.  We who claim to believe in the message of Christ have a bounden duty to reflect all which is taught to us by Messiah.  Claiming to believe goes far beyond a benign belief that Jesus of Nazareth once walked the earth; faith involves actions which reflect what it is we believe about The Lord, a reflection of the mercy once extended to us.

Make no mistake; our actions do not buy us favor with our Holy Father, for He cannot be bought nor can He be impressed by human action.  Rather we understand that the “transformation of the world” begins with the transformation of our own hearts, doing and being to our neighbors and to the world all The Lord has done and has been to His Church, His people.  Then will we begin to see changes.  Then will those outside of the Covenant begin to understand what the Holy Covenant is about.  We will never see it nor understand its importance, however, until we first begin to do it ourselves. 

Blessings,

Michael

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A Thought

“Let the believer who is lowly boast in being raised up, and the rich in being brought low, because the rich will disappear like a flower in the field”  (James 1:9-10).

So much for the so-called “prosperity gospel”, right?  That The Lord is just aching to give us material blessings in such abundance that we will not be able to keep up with it all?  Not so fast, according to James.  We should understand this passage in its appropriate context, however, before we are so quick to judge the “rich” for having more than we think they are entitled to.

There are many persons who are financially very well off and who are also not afraid to share their abundance; and they are not afraid because they have a deep and abiding faith in The Lord to see to their futures.  They recognize that The Lord has seen to their abundance so they have plenty to share, not so they can have more for themselves (“for the Lord does not show partiality”).  Even though there seem to be many passages that condemn the “rich” for simply being rich, everything must be taken in its appropriate context.

James is speaking in terms not of money but of faith; real faith, enduring faith, the kind of faith that transcends an empty and often uncertain belief that has yet to be proved.  We do not see this passage as promising material wealth to the “lowly”; we must therefore not read this same passage as a curse on those who have found success.  Rather we should understand this passage as the same Promise fulfilled in all; that the “lowly” will be raised up from the trappings of whatever has brought them low (it may not be strictly about being “poor”), and the “rich” will be released from the trappings that often come with wealth.  We must believe (because it is true) that money does not buy happiness.  It might be rented for awhile, but it doesn’t last.  And The Lord wants to redeem them as well.

I will grant that the entire passage seems to be condemnatory toward the “rich”, but we must understand we all have our own crosses to bear in whatever form is presented to us.  The Lord assures us that if we take up that cross faithfully and follow Him, He will show us the way out from under the world’s many traps.  The Promise is predicated, however, on our choice to deliberately engage in Messiah’s life and path; not to simply believe He is or that He walked the earth or that He was raised from the grave.  We must have the faith to know it! “For the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the winds; for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord” (James 1:6-8).   

Don’t be so hard on the “rich” for being under condemnation, and don’t be so hard on the “poor” who seem to have let life’s opportunities pass by them.  We all have a cross to bear, according to our Lord, and each one is as heavy as the next.  So if we are to boast at all, let us boast in knowing we are being led out!

Blessings,

Michael