Sunday, April 30, 2006

What, me worry?

“I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value that they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?”

“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own troubles.” Matthew 6:25-27, 31-34

First and foremost on our minds today is the skyrocketing price of fuel and what ‘evil’ the energy companies are up to and how we are forced to endure their “obscene” and record-breaking quarterly profits and what our Congress and our president will choose to do to “punish” these greedy people.

It was not too many months ago when Social Security was the primary concern we had about our government and how President Bush was “deliberately” trying to destroy the elderly and force them to eat more cat food and do without heating and cooling, etc etc. We cried out to our congressional representatives and pleaded with them to “save” us from this evil president who was out to dismantle what is arguably the most successful government program in place today.

Asking a congressman to “save” us from anything in light of what is written in Matthew is sort of like telling the Lord that we will trust Him to save our souls and get us into Heaven tomorrow, but down here we need our congressman today to “save” us from the day-to-day worries. Is it not just possible that, upon that Day when we stand before the Lord, He will ask, “Why didn’t you trust Me with your daily concerns? What did Congressman so-and-so ever do for you that I didn’t already do? What sacrifice did he make for you so that you could actually live a life filled with hope?”

Having genuine concerns for the state of our economy, especially in how it affects the “least of these” is not the same as incessant “worry” about how the price of fuel or the volatility of the stock market is going to affect our retirement funds. The tone of our protests and hateful words against the president and this congress and the energy industry is pure evidence that we are scared to death of what tomorrow will bring. How can we offer hope to non-believers when it is abundantly clear that we are ourselves without hope? How can we encourage non-believers to allow Christ to be Lord of their lives when it is clear that our congressman, senators, and president are co-lords of our lives now; that our faith and trust is clearly in man-made legislation and not in divinely inspired Scripture?

For the life of the faithful, what is happening today is not about social justice or supply-and-demand economics; it is about faith, pure and simple, and how we respond to our society, our economy, and our culture. It is about knowing that tomorrow is firmly in the hands of the Lord God and that believing this to be true goes far beyond what we put into the collection plate on Sunday.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Blessings from Above

There is hardly a sensation more spiritually or emotionally overwhelming than to be able to see, hear, taste, or feel the blessings that come from our Holy Father and know with absolute certainty from whence they come. Here in draught-stricken Arkansas where drinking water supplies are dangerously low and municipalities are restricting how we can wash our cars (only at high-pressure, low-usage commercial car washes) and when we can water our lawns, there has been a steady rain this morning that is as refreshing to hear and see as any other sensation I can imagine.

How timely it was, then, that in the "religion" section of today's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette is an article reminding us of the power of the "moment of silence" that we not-often-enough exercise in our worship services or in our daily lives. As I sat silently and listened to the abundant rain outside, I was instantly reminded of how it is by the hand of the Lord that we are protected and nourished. Even as the outdoors was being washed anew and refreshed with the much-needed rain, I was indoors and protected from the elements. I was reading a paper that is published in a free nation, and my family is well.

It doesn't get much better than this.

Truth is as Truth does

“Pilate therefore said to Jesus, “Are You a king then?”

Jesus answered, “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the Truth hears My voice.”

Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?” John 18:37-38 NKJV

Absolute truth seems to escape us even as we are absolutely convicted in what we believe. Whether we have come upon this conviction by personal experience or by what is written is relative to the circumstances in which we find ourselves. A reasonable person may often find himself or herself asking such a rhetorical question as, “What is truth?”

For Christians, Christ is the absolute Truth of the revelation of the Lord God. Father Eric Pohlmeier, pastor of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Hot Springs AR, wrote, “The Christian understanding is that all truth is a reflection of God because God is the source of all truth. So, many religions, many explanations of reality, can reflect the truth without fully capturing it.”

Rabbi Eugene Levy, spiritual leader of the Temple B’Nai Israel in Little Rock AR, states, “Rather than claiming ‘the truth’, we would all do ourselves and the world a gigantic favor if, instead of trying to usurp the ‘truth’, we would study what the ‘truths’ of each religion are and learn to appreciate and accept and love them.”

Finally, Imam Islam Mosaad, spiritual leader of the Islamic Center of Little Rock AR, offers this perspective: “We may disagree about God and spiritual truths, but this does not in any way preclude us from honoring our shared human dignity.”

“The Lord God forbids you not, with respect to those who do not fight you because of your chosen way of life or expel you from your homes, that you act in kindness and fairness towards them; for indeed, the Lord God loves those who are fair and equitable.”
Quran 60:8

“He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8

The ‘truth’ can take quite a beating when we as individuals or even as a collective entity insist that we have a corner on the truth and then attempt to beat into submission those who disagree with us by trying to convince the masses that our "opponents" are trying to mislead and misguide and “lie” about what truly is. And when we are discussing any topic we may be passionate about, whether it is the economy or Christ the revelation, any dissension is met with anything but “loving mercy” because our counter-attacks are anything but merciful.

Truth is as truth does. And if our behavior in church or in politics is any indication, "truth" is not something that many will want any part of.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

A Wise Father

A young boy had just gotten his driver's permit and inquired of his father, an evangelist, if they could discuss his use of the car. His father said, "I'll make a deal with you. You bring your grades up from a C to a B average, study your Bible a little, get your hair cut and we'll talk about the car."

Well, the boy thought about that for a moment, decided that he'd settle for the offer, and they agreed on it. After about six weeks they went into the study, where his father said, "Son, I've been real proud. You brought your grades up, and I've observed that you have been studying your Bible, and participating a lot more in the Bible study groups. But, I'm real disappointed, since you haven't gotten your hair cut."

The young man paused a moment, and then said, "You know, Dad, I've been thinking about that, and I've noticed in my studies of the Bible that Samson had long hair, John the Baptist had long hair, Moses had long hair and there's even a strong argument that Jesus had long hair."

To this his father replied, "Did you also notice that they all walked everywhere they went?"

Sunday, April 23, 2006

The Fall Guy

Judas Iscariot is two-thousand years in the grave and is causing as much a stir now as in the day when he decided to sell Jesus out to those who wished Him destroyed. Jesus was, after all, a rebel with a cause who challenged the core religious establishment to its man-made foundation. This religion was filled with pious, righteous men who deemed themselves the enforcers of YHWH’s laws and as teachers of the faith that delivered Israel’s people from bondage and slavery in Egypt. Jesus was the One who was calling this same people back to the faith which had delivered them, and His calling of faith was getting in the way of the religion of this same people, or at least the religion of those who called themselves the teachers.

According to the synoptic gospels and with tongue firmly in cheek, were it not for the treachery and deceitfulness of Judas, the Pharisees and chief priests may never have caught up with Jesus. Recall in the Gospel according to Mark of the implication that no one would apparently know who to arrest, making Judas’ kiss necessary for positive ID.

“Immediately, while Jesus was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, with a great multitude with swords and clubs, came from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders. Now His betrayer had given them a signal, saying, ‘Whomever I kiss, He is the One; seize Him and lead Him away safely.’” Mark 15:43-44

There is an odd flavor in this passage which might suggest that something is not quite in sync with the whole Judas story, not the least of which is the likelihood that contained within the “multitude” is not one single person other than Judas who could recognize Jesus positively. Am I the only one who finds this strange?

Having read only commentaries from various historians and theologians, the Gospel of Judas, apparently written some two-hundred to three-hundred years after the synoptic gospels, portrays Judas in a more favorable light as a trusted companion of Jesus and one who may have been in cahoots with Jesus Himself in order to hasten that fateful day.

In all these years, it has been told to us that Judas alone was the one who gave Jesus up to the authorities. Then there are the passages in which Judas is sorry for what he has done and tries to give back the money he was paid for his betrayal and his hanging himself and, well, the rest of the gruesome details we are well aware of. Yet the assignment of blame does not stop with Judas.

A Vatican II document, entitled “Nostra Aetate”, was a ground-breaking piece of work through which the Catholic Church worked to correct some two-thousand years of oppression and fault-finding which somehow held the Jews alone responsible for the death of Jesus, likely because of their recorded dismissals of Christ’s message of salvation. Years later during the time of Pope John Paul II, Christians were called to account for some of the burden for the religious pretense used by the Nazi hate mongers. Thomas G. Lederer of the seminary of the Immaculate Conception writes, “According to the pope, it was much easier for Christians to turn away from the reality of the gas chambers and death camps with preconceptions of Jewish responsibility for Christ’s death coursing through the veins of those transfused with early childhood Christian religious education.”

In October 1997, Pope John Paul II stated, “In the Christian world … the wrong and unjust interpretation of the New Testament relating to the Jewish people and their presumed guilt circulated for too long, contributing to feelings of hostility toward these people.”

Did Judas somehow become too small a target so that throughout the course of Christian history, we would be able to turn our sights on an entire people and hold them responsible for the death of Christ Jesus, somehow “blaming” them even as we “rejoice” in the death that produced the blood by which we proclaim ourselves absolved of all our sin? I would admit that the killing of the Messiah would necessarily have to involve at least a conspiracy as “big” as Messiah Himself; one single person throughout all of human history is just not quite “big” enough to hang such responsibility on. Yet this is what is told to us through the New Testament.

Why do we feel such a need to hold someone responsible? Why is it so important that we be able to personify the treachery that turned Jesus over to the authorities as we “celebrate” His death? The entire premise is not theologically sound and yet we hold so fast to it that we virtually turn inside-out when some piece of ancient history is discovered and brought to light because it contradicts what we have always believed to be true, according to the canon we’ve always possessed.

For those who revel in the crucifixion of Jesus, it becomes necessary to ask ourselves whether the life of Jesus had any significant value if His death was the only real purpose of His entire existence. If His death alone were necessary for the redemption of mankind, why not allow Jesus to be executed as a child when King Herod ordered the slaughter of the innocents instead of warning Joseph in a dream to flee the land? The Holy Child would have been just as dead and could have, by the power of YHWH, been just as resurrected as the Man.

This apparently is not what was meant to be. There are numerous passages from the Hebrew texts which seem to prophesy of the coming Messiah, and much of what happens to Jesus during His time on earth is a direct reflection of these prophesies.

It must be noted, however, that this is precisely what happens in Mark 14:50: “Then they all forsook Him and fled.”

Although Judas’ act may have served as a catalyst for what was about to take place, it is quite a stretch to suggest that Judas alone was responsible for subsequent events and that if Judas had not done what he had done, Jesus would not have been crucified.
My only point in all of this is what I consider to be overreactions from many evangelicals who have apparently cried “foul” over the release of this “gospel” that proclaims to be the gospel of Judas and that Judas is portrayed as Jesus’ “best friend”. We want Judas to be the fall guy; we NEED him to be the fall guy, because this somehow seems to take a little pressure off of us.

We do not want to believe that we could somehow, some two-thousand years removed, be responsible for the death of Christ. Yet we will still be among the first to proclaim ourselves “clean” from the blood that poured out as a result.

Just as Mark 14:50 suggests, those closest to Jesus were the ones who “forsook Him and fled”. Would we not have been as tempted?

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Best and Worst

How can a presidency be defined so that one administration can be fairly compared to another, especially if comparing a liberal-to-moderate Democratic president against a moderate-to-conservative Republican president? Each would have a different set of core values and beliefs even if they shared common goals such as "a chicken in every pot" or "good, high-paying jobs for all who want them" or "national security at any cost", and so on and so on.

I am a news and op-ed junkie. I especially like reading "letters to the editor" written by regular folks who care as much, if not more, than any paid politician about the state of affairs in their community, state, and nation. What I cannot understand is the occassional letter that continues to remind us how awful President Clinton was and what a stain on our fair state of Arkansas his presidential library is. Mr. Clinton is five years removed from that office and is constitutionally barred from running again.

Well, I was never a fan of Mr. Clinton, but I love this library. My family and I found it to be very fascinating and informative. I also found a presidency that may (or may not) have accomplished much more if Republicans had been more concerned about the good of the nation rather than the demise of a Democratic president. Now, of course, it would appear that the Democrats are more concerned with fighting with President Bush than with trying to work with him, so maybe it is that Washington DC is nothing more than a "tit-for-tat" game board in which revenge is far sweeter than honest dialogue about differences in philosophy.

The negativity connected to former President Clinton that many conservatives try to keep rehashing has more to do with speculation that Hillary may take a shot at the White House in '08. Keeping the negativity from the Bill Clinton days seems to be the Republican/conservative effort to discredit Hillary before a campaign has even begun which would virtually guarantee that we poor citizens will have to listen to this garbage for three years!

In a word, dear reader, we ask for it every election year because we continue to "rehire" the same, tired, old mouth pieces who could not care less whether we live well or die hard. Their quest is for power, plain and simple. And they play the voter like a cheap fiddle, knowing perfectly well that we can be bought with cheap baubles and shiny beads. The only way we can actually tell the difference between a Democrat or a Republican is the manner in which they curse or bless Bill Clinton and George Bush.

It is becoming clearer that our politicians are merely a reflection of the culture that produces them.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Learning Something New

I have finally figured out that I am a Wesleyan. A classic liberal (egads! I wish I knew what that meant!!). A postmodern (is this healthy?). Good grief. Does this now mean that I hate commerce, free trade, and believe that Ted Kennedy, et al, is the salvation of the United States? Does this mean that I may have to change my party affiliation? Does this mean that I must now rethink everything I thought I believed?

I guess I can take some comfort in my low "fundamentalist" and "modern liberal" score. I still wish I knew more about these answers and what they really mean.

I suppose the more I try to evaluate what I really believe, the more confused I become. It may be that I and many others are trying desperately to fit ourselves into some sort of pre-conceived mold by which we may more accurately describe ourselves if or when we are ever confronted by boards that may ask us what we believe. Do I have intentions of rethinking some of my core values and beliefs simply because I don't care much for the answers I got? I think not. On the whole, however, I can be pretty satisfied with what I see except for one tiny detail: why should I care how some poll folds my box?

Monday, April 17, 2006

Dirty Laundry

Misleading title, but I couldn't really think of what else to call it. It's time again for some random thoughts with no real depth or meaning, just clutter that I probably need to remove from my attic.

  • Easter has come and gone. There is still a little candy left over in my home. I am the last one in the world who needs it but as I am irresistibly drawn toward the Cadbury's egg I am compelled to ask myself, "What does any of this have to do with Easter?"
  • A clinical psychologist has declared that Zacarias Moussaoui is mentally unstable. Good call, doc.
  • Jane Fonda wanted to tour the country and speak out against the war in Iraq, but she was afraid that she is toting too much baggage from her Vietnam protesting days. She also believes Cindy Sheehan is doing a much better job than she could have. I'm not so sure of that if getting people stirred up is what she intends to accomplish.
  • Speaking of the war in Iraq, I will go on record as saying I was not real sure about our willingness to go it alone. Now that we're there, what are we supposed to do? If we pull out, what will be left? I guess I'm still wondering what the protesters actually believe.
  • The Gospel of Judas is said to portray Judas in a more favorable light. Fundamentalists are really up in arms about this latest "discovery". Why are we so determined to put Judas in eternal hell fire? Would it change the fact that it was SIN that put Jesus on the cross and not Judas nor the Jews nor the Romans? Do we really care, or do we just want someone other than ourselves to blame?
  • I am still getting circular e-mails from folks trying to convince me that Bill Clinton was a draft dodger and that this will somehow make Hillary a bad president (??). I am no Clinton fan and never was. I suspect I never will be.
  • John at Locusts and Honey puts out a weekly summary of Methodist blogs and their writings with quick links. In addition, much of his stuff is thought-provoking and sometimes downright funny. For any who happen by, check out his blog and his unnatural fondness for rabbits. And incidentally, John puts out this summary all on his own. It is an incredible undertaking and I am quite certain that if he stopped doing it, it would end. Thank you, John, from the bottom of my heart.
  • Speaking of the Methodist blogroll, there are several quick links to the left of this column. I dare say there are some incredible talents, theologians, and lay persons who have a genuine love affair going on with the Lord. You need to take time to visit some. I have my particular favorites, but you will just have to see for yourself that there is something for everyone.
  • I wish there was some way in which to convince the voting public that they really need to read more newspapers about the candidates in the upcoming elections and not be influenced by sound-bites. We miss out on so much by refusing to listen to the whole story.
  • I have some pretty incredible nieces (and one nephew), beautiful over-achievers they are. Of course I am proud of my entire family, but it amazes me sometimes how dedicated these young Christians are, including my own children. I sometimes wish I could turn back the clock and undo some of the careless and irresponsible stunts I pulled when I was younger (mostly involving alcohol). But then, this would change everything and, God help me, I love the life He has so abundantly provided to me.

It's almost time for bed. For you visitors (and my site meter says you're out there!), thank you for your visit. It is also lawful to leave comments from time to time.

Have peace.


Saturday, April 15, 2006

Defining the America Culture

Since the immigration debate began heating up, there have been some thought-provoking ideas about the common culture that we Americans share. It is a culture believed to be important as a means by which we identify ourselves distinctly as Americans. It is a culture believed to be unique as well as one into which all immigrants should strive to assimilate themselves.

It would be difficult to completely disagree with such ideas. After all, even if we as a society can find ourselves celebrating such a diversity of cultures that serves to distinguish our various traditions and backgrounds, there is still a commonality that we must necessarily share if we are to identify ourselves as a unified nation even if it is nothing more than a common language. Instead, we are spending untold amounts giving, for instance, driver license tests in several different languages as all the street signs are printed in English.

Aside from what we as a nation must be prepared to do in order to protect our borders and control immigration – and I believe we must as a matter of national security – immigration and the problem of illegal immigrants are not what has been haunting me. Rather, I have been trying desperately to identify this “American culture” that many seek to protect. I suppose this unique culture can mean different things to different people, but a nation with a common purpose must necessarily be united in one form or fashion.

So what is the one unique thing that binds us together as a nation? Even as diverse a population as there is in the United States, there must also surely be one common theme that exists within the hearts and minds of Americans, that theme that distinctly cries out, “THIS IS AN AMERICAN (dream)!”

That’s it, isn’t it? The “American Dream”. It is that one simple ideal to which each American citizen, and even aliens who come to this country, aspires and works to achieve. Even the “American Dream” can be as diverse as the populace that seeks to identify the ideal for itself. We dream, we plan, we hope, we desire, we work, and we save so that one day we can claim for ourselves that piece of the “American Dream”.

So what is the “American Dream”? Is it home or land ownership? Is it education for our children? Is it other property not necessarily with lasting value but with an intrinsic value to us as Americans that we can lay claim to it as our piece of the “Dream” and call it our own American ideal? Or is it something as simple and yet as profound as “liberty”; the right to do and to be as we choose to do or be? Or to choose not to participate in the so-called rat race that has driven many a good American to an early grave?

The more I reflect and explore, the more the American ideal sounds like consumerism. The ideal and the quality of the dream may have as much to do with how much we can acquire and accumulate as it has to do with our right to do so.

Even beyond this is the amount and quality of “stuff” we can gather for ourselves and our families and even our old age. We have continued debates about an acceptable and mandated minimum wage while we lament about the high cost of goods and services we seek to acquire. Even as we do this, we cry out about those who would enter into this country illegally and take “our” jobs and then continue to pray for those who are unfairly exploited while we secretly are thankful that someone is out there holding down the cost of these goods and services we can no longer live without.

It would appear that the unique American culture has more to do with what we can do for ourselves rather than what we can for one another such as welcoming a stranger and giving not only of our abundance but also of ourselves. It may be that our culture, however unique, could use a shot of this culture and that so that we may learn more about what it takes to build up our communities rather than build up for ourselves that which can be taken from us without warning.

It may be that our American culture demands a $50,000.00 standard of living on a $35,000.00 paycheck. The American culture being what it is may have more to do with a sense of entitlement by which we justify our horse-choking debt loads and inability to pay what we owe, much less share what we have.

It does not seem to be enough to simply seek the ideal. It seems to me that we must first identify this ideal to determine whether or not we are truly prepared to live within such a society and then demand assimilation from others to share in the same.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Remembering 9/11 ... Again

In the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui, they are playing recordings from final phone conversations of passengers aboard that fateful flight as well as remembrances from some whose loved ones called from the World Trade Center even after the presiding judge had warned against such strategies lest the jury forget that there are certain "FACTS" in the case that require attention. Emotion is never a good way to judge a case, especially one like this.

I only say this because I still get emotional myself whenever I reflect on that day. The part that stands out in my mind, aside from the countless thousands of lives that were directly impacted, was the phone call I received that afternoon from my then 12-year-old daughter who had been told in school by someone that the Muslims were out to kill American children. To hear that sweet, innocent voice virtually begging for assurance that no one was specifically out to get her and try to maintain my own composure was overwhelming, to say the least. There was still anger in my soul over the events of the day, but there was also still chaos in the news with each station vying for attention to their own coverage. I am not so sure what I was feeling or thinking that day except that my daughter's innocence and sense of well-being had been violated.

I'm not so sure that rehashing such emotionally charged sentiment in a trial is a good idea because I am quite certain that all of America was feeling pretty much what I was feeling on that day. Having such recordings played and replayed can virtually shut out any sense of rational logic and fair play, especially for a "foreigner" standing trial and representing everything we hated, and still perhaps hate, about that awful day.

I do not wish to take away from those who lost their loved ones on 9/11/01. I do not wish to diminish the pain and grief they must still feel. I do wish, however, to diminish the power that evil can have when we allow our emotions to run away with us. We are, first and foremost, Christians who live by a standard of conduct that challenges us each day to be better and more Christ-like than the day before, ever striving toward spiritual perfection and seeking desperately to walk in the footsteps of the gentle One who showed us the way home.

None of this means that we are not allowed our human emotions; Jesus had such moments Himself. It means that it is ok, but it also means that we must strive to overcome those emotions and think in such a way that we could even have compassion for such as one who would have planned and participated in such a heinous act against innocent civilians. For we know, or should reasonably know, that Moussaoui may be lost - perhaps for all eternity. In this, we cannot rejoice and still claim the name "Christian".

Monday, April 10, 2006

Christ in the Passover

In Saturday's edition of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's religion section was a piece about the Passover seder, the meal that is in the Jewish tradition rich in symbolism and meaning. It seems that rather than have "Jews for Jesus" come visit and offer the seder with explanations with historical and theological implications, some Christian churches have "hi-jacked" the seder, changed the meaning of some of the fundamental elements, and have come very near to changing the entire presentation even if there are easily some parallels that can be made.

The author, Laura Lynn Brown, reports, "Some churches modify the seder to the extent that every symbol in the Passover becomes some symbol of Jesus' divinity", according to Rabbi Eugene Levy, spiritual leader of Temple B'Nai Israel, a Reformed temple in Little Rock. "For example, one element of the seder - three matzo wafers inside a cloth - symbolizes three layers of early Jewish society: the priests, the Levites, and the Israelites." Rabbi Levy has attended seders where the leader says they are a symbol of the Christian Trinity of God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit. When the middle mazto is broken and wrapped in a cloth, the leader likens that to Jesus' broken body and the cloth He was wrapped in after His crucifixion. Rabbi Levy says, 'That's their interpretation, but that's very far afield from the Jewish interpretation.'"

Rabbi Levy has a very good relationship with the Christian community in central Arkansas and has visited many congregations to present the seder and its proper context, and the rabbi is very highly regarded in Arkansas. He does not take away from what some of these Christian congregations are doing with what was at one time distinctly Jewish. I am not so sure that I am willing to be as gracious.

Our faith tradition has a very rich history, like it or not, that comes from our distinctly Jewish roots. Taking something as significant as the Passover seder and trying to turn it into something that it clearly is not is, for me, to take away from something in which the Lord God touched an entire nation. I think even Rabbi Levy finds this new twist somehow strange. "Some churches want to do a Passover seder very accurately. They want to model what the Jewish Passover is. What would Jesus have sat through?"

That very question is precisely what led me to attend worship one Sabbath at his temple. I wanted to know more about the faith of Jesus. What sort of worship service would He have sat through? What did He think? How did He worship? Of course I had to sit next to a smart-aleck who asked me what a Christian was doing visiting a Jewish temple. I stated that I wanted to know more about the faith of the One whom I call "Savior". My new friend very plainly told me that Jesus would likely have attended the Orthodox temple on the other side of town. I found the experience very enriching and enlightening. Almost the entire service was done in Hebrew even though there was enough English throughout that helped me to stay with the flow.

Still, during that worship service were some elements of praise that I could easily have imagined Jesus to have been an active part of. After all, did He not teach us to praise the Lord God? The whole thing was a remembrance that seemed to culminate in the Exodus much like the Catholic Mass culminates in the Eucharist, the celebration of that wondrous gift of eternal life. In each, the people had been freed from bondage. In each is contained a time of preparation, a time of reflection, and yes, even a time of sorrow. Many parallels but each distinct in its own right.

I think I would rather see the Passover as it was established with Moses and the people of Israel. Acknowledging a historic reality without trying to modify it does not diminish the reality of Christ in the Passover - "In the BEGINNING was the Word" - Christ is the eternal Covenant of the Lord our God. Without beginning and without ending - Eternal. With man, however, one step at a time but clear and distinctive steps on our journey to the Promised Land - HIS land and not our own.

Grace and Peace,

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Mob Mentality

"A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of Him and those that followed shouted, 'Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!' When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, 'Who is this?' The crowds answered, 'This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth of Galilee." Matthew 21:8-11

It has been said that this moment in Jesus’ life - entering into Jerusalem - was considered to be a “triumph”, as if Jesus had now made His final move toward victory over the Romans. I suppose this could be true in a way, but I also think this interpretation we have about Jesus coming into Jerusalem as "triumphant" is misleading and fails to acknowledge some historical and cultural truths. I also think that looking at this passage in such a way sort of lets us “off the hook”.

Notice that when the people greet Jesus riding into town on a donkey, they are greeting the “Son of David”. It is important when reading Matthew that we take a distinctly Jewish perspective of what the writer is actually saying. It is obvious in this reference that the great King David is of the lineage that gives Jesus His own credibility in the eyes of the people. I’m not so sure that these people are giving Him much more than this even though verse 11 reveals at least something: “multitudes said, ‘This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth of Galilee.”

There was much more that the people were looking forward to than what Jesus had any intention of doing – at least in THIS lifetime. And when Jesus failed to overthrow the Roman government and restore King David’s Hebrew tradition of, quite literally, “ONE NATION UNDER GOD”, He began to lose favor with the very crowd who had only recently received Him with great honor and eager anticipation.

What the people could not see, however, is that even though the Roman government seems to have tried to remove the Jew’s own national “identity”, the Romans were only a symptom of a much greater evil. The people who were virtually lining the streets to be “saved” had no concept of what it was they needed to be “saved” from beyond the Roman government. It would seem, then, that the people who were lining the road and greeting the “Son of David” were more likely “wannabe warriors” who were fully prepared to do battle with the Romans and have them ejected from Jerusalem – if only someone would take the leadership role.

I wonder why they didn’t seem to notice that Jesus was riding on a donkey instead of a majestic STEED or on a battle chariot and that He was not carrying any weapons of war or wearing any sort of body armor and had no battle-ready soldiers following behind Him.

We are now entering into the time of “Holy Week” which for the life of the Church is a time of great reflection – and GREAT SORROWS - in which we remember the final days leading up to the crucifixion of Christ. We are to take these passages and dig much deeper into the heart of what the writers were trying to say – but not so that we can be more historically accurate.

Instead, we should be more mindful of how easy it would be to repeat such happenings today and realize how easily we can be so caught up in our own misery and seek someone to blame for how things are.

Consider the current presidential administration. The war in Iraq seems to have no end in sight, and we are losing faith in the administration’s ability to put a workable timetable for withdrawal in place. In fact, we don’t even know if withdrawal will ever be an option. Where was the outcry when the president was virtually PROMISING war to the United States and the United Nations? Why were we not protesting then?

We have lost faith over time because, like the Jews in early Jerusalem, we were angry at someone. The anticipated results did not come to fruition. We did not expect to become bogged down as we are now. We were angry at Muslims in general, and we allowed ourselves to be convinced that Saddam Hussein was the end-all, be-all personification of evil that he may well be. We know what this man was capable of, and we were convinced that removing this man from power would settle the score and “make the world safer”. Now we’re not so sure.

Politics aside, no man and no government on this earth has absolute power over us now anymore than the Romans had absolute power over the Jews of ancient Jerusalem. Yet like the Jews, we needed someone to personify our fears and justify our anger. Now that the war continues, we are not so pleased with the president. We have placed all our faith in ONE MAN to make our lives better and make our world safer without realizing that the powers and “principalities” that are a genuine threat cannot be overcome by man.

We are painfully aware of our need for salvation – I’m just not so sure that we are fully aware of what or whom we need to be saved from! Jesus never promised His followers an easy way in this life. He never promised us fame or fortune, and He never suggested for one moment that material wealth would be key to our success and happiness. And He never came close to telling us that the threat to our eternal soul existed in this world

- EXCEPT by our own acts and words.

“Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in Hell.” Matthew 10:28

When we become afraid, we seek others to share in our fear. We want them to be as afraid as we are, and we want to gang up against that which causes us to fear. It seems to be an instinct we have toward self-preservation.

In the end, however, we discover that our fears are generally unfounded and without merit. We have allowed ourselves to believe that we are on our own and that we have been left alone to fend for ourselves.

We need not look into the past to try and determine for ourselves how the Jews must have acted or what they must have been thinking. That time is past, and we have proclaimed for ourselves a Savior who has promised that He will one day come again. But before He arrives and rides through the city’s gate and before we throw our coats on the ground and shout “Hosanna”, it may be that we need to examine for ourselves WHY we are so glad to see Him. Will our joy be only for our own sakes or for the sake of His Glory?

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

More on Excesses

"Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and peridition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness and pierced themselves through with many sorrows." 1 Timothy 6-10 NKJV

I have often said, half jokingly, that I have nothing against rich people; in fact, I hope to be one someday! I suppose I've always had this semi-fantasy floating in the back of my mind of a day when I did not have to balance the check book and wonder whether there was enough money to make the house payment. O, the day when I could write a $1000 check to a worthy charity and be glad to have had it to share! Yes Lord, I would do great things if You would only trust me as much as (I say) I trust You!

We know that it doesn't work this way. We should also know that there is a very good reason why it does not and should not work this way. Some, such as I, could not be trusted with large chunks of money. I am absolutely certain of what drives my desire for money. Money = power. That's it. There really is not much more to it.

And the writer of Timothy hits on a key word as well: "contentment". I suppose it never really struck me until last night as I was reading through this passage in preparation for a Sunday sermon (YES!! I get to fill in for someone!). What does it take to be content, truly content? Does contentment feed fulfillment, or is it the other way around? There is enough contained in this passage to force any reasonable disciple to guess that there much more to life than the pursuit of worldly riches, those things "that rust".

It is easy for me to point a finger at the Vatican and high-dollar pastors and demand that they live like the rest of us, but the reality is that any among us is just as subject to these temptations. I for one don't seem too willing to sell everything I own and take up a cross. It would seem I am more willing to tote the extra burden (the cross) along with all my "stuff". This is not a pretty picture of someone who has virtually demanded that the Vatican be sold and the space be given up for homeless folks.

The very same can be said for saving money and fretting about Social Security. Whom do we truly trust if we actually spend time worrying about what will happen to us tomorrow, surely knowing that tomorrow may well never come for us?

That's it, isn't it? It's not that we fear tomorrow necessarily; it is that we are afraid there will be too many "tomorrows" and not enough cash to go around. Either way, we condemn ourselves by demanding that others live up (or down) to a standard we are not willing to abide by.

This is not to say that there are not excesses within the Church. It must be remembered, however, that until we are willing to lead BY EXAMPLE, the message is just a lot of meaningless noise.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

The Da Vinci Code

Not long ago while attending a class, Principles of the Life of Christ, the instructor was introducing various historical documents that man has used over time to justify his religion. He spoke briefly of the Bible, of course, as well as the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Apocrypha, and the Gnostic Gospels. What really got this man on a tear, however, was Dan Brown and his megahit The Da Vinci Code. The good reverend was extremely upset that Mr. Brown had the audacity to present his book as a historical source work. When I mentioned to the instructor that I had read - and thoroughly enjoyed - the book and found nothing that suggested such a claim (in fact, there is a printed disclaimer that reminds us that the overall work is a piece of FICTION). Mr. Instructor then suggested I go online to Mr. Brown's website to which I responded, "I have, and I stand by what I say." Did I mention that I got a "B" in the class?

Hence the title link to "Common Questions" on Dan Brown's website about The Da Vinci Code. There is no claim to historical accuracy even though there are some historic references such as ancient organizations and practices, but the plot of the whole story required that Mr. Brown take some artistic license with some of these references. Mr. Brown is not, to my knowledge, trying to sell this work as a "text" book for some future class in religion history.

I can only say that I have not enjoyed a book as much as I enjoyed this one (with the possible exception of The Grapes of Wrath). It was an incredible ride that kept me on the edge of my seat AND my sanity (I kept having to reread some portions to make sure I was not trying to "learn" something historic that was not meshing with what I had actually "learned" in some history and theology classes!)!!

If you choose to read this book, try to remember that it is a work of FICTION. This means that the story itself is not true even if some references are accurate. He is not trying to attack the Roman Catholic Church, and he is not necessarily trying to dispute 2000 years of Christian teachings (though I must admit that some portions of the book did force me to stop and think. In fact, I think one or two sermons came from this book!).

Did I mention that The Da Vinci Code is a work of FICTION? That's F*I*C*T*I*O*N.

The only reason I get so worked up is because I still read snippets here and there from some theologians who insist that Dan Brown is challenging the very foundation of the Church itself. One thing I can be sure of is this: what Dan Brown or I may think about the Church will not change its foundation one tiny bit. He thinks, and I think. That's just about it except for the fact that he probably gets paid a lot more than I for what he thinks.

More on "Repent from What?

Well, I guess I should have seen it coming. This post is linked to an MSN story which reports that the Vatican expects royalties from papal writings. That is to say, the wisdom of the pope seems to be for sale. That is to say, papal writings which has always attended church doctrine with practical application with a gospel perspective cannot be reprinted without royalties being paid.

I'm not exactly sure how I feel about this. I do recognize that there are expenses related to printing, but I'm not sure that a royalty payment is directly related to production expenses. I am not so sure that priests should be "moonlighting" for extra cash. Besides, does the Vatican have exclusive claim to what is written by a pope? After all, it is the Vatican that is demanding royalty payments presumably for encyclicals, a papal declaration of church teaching.

What do you think?

Repent from What?

"After John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God and saying, 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel." Mark 1:14-15 NKJV

All eyes are on the Roman church this weekend because of the commemoration of the passing of John Paul II. Because of the life this man had led, there is much to be remembered for I believe that his life was one of inspiration and dedication. I believe now as much as I believed then that John Paul II was true to his calling.

I also experienced some troubling thoughts as I was watching some of the reviews on TV that showed the Vatican. I hope my Catholic friends do not take offense with what I am about to offer because my intent is not to denigrate Catholicism at all.

I was reading this passage from Mark when an image of the Vatican was displayed on TV, and I began to recall some thoughts others have had in the past about the excessiveness of the Vatican and the private residence of one who had at one time taken a vow of poverty for the sake of the gospel. Now the pope resides in a palace and is nowhere near the level of poverty we know and understand.

The worldwide church, not exclusively the Roman church, owns property and has holdings worth millions, if not billions. Because some of these holdings are so massive, the cost just to maintain these holdings must be huge. There are pastors and bishops from other denominations whose compensation packages must be worth over $200,000.00 annually, and this is not even including a paid residence. I recall once a "bean counter" from the conference who came to our church to help explain the budget of the conference, and he made mention of $40 million in holdings for a "rainy day".

Considering the magnitude of poverty and hunger in the entire world, I'm thinking that it's raining cats and dogs in some parts of this country alone, and yet the church is waiting for a "rainy day". Can anyone tell me the proportion of the world-wide church's budget that is devoted to ministry and mission vs administration? If I had to guess, I would say that we are spending an awful lot of money on day-to-day "operations" that has little to do with directly confronting hunger alone.

We church people are eager to blame the United States and the Western nations for hording too much wealth and spending too much on war, but we do little with our own cash except to wait for "rain".

It is no small wonder that many have lost faith in the church so much to the point that tithing is not the act of worship it once was or could actually be. Administrative costs are a reality, I know, but what are we "holding" out for? How bad does it actually have to be before we are collectively willing to really stick our necks out for the sake of the gospel?

It seems to be that our costs have grown so out-of-control because we are more eager and wiling to spend money "on faith" that attracting more persons to our churches will somehow change the world. And maybe it will to some extent. Or maybe it is that building bigger and nicer buildings and paying the pastors more and buying CD's (certificates of deposit, not music) and hiring professional musicians and hording our money to make more money in order to see to the "business" of the church is more along the lines of the necessary repentance to which Jesus was referring.

If we truly possess the faith which we preach as necessary for salvation, why are we so afraid of tomorrow that we would horde money and wait for "rain"? Why must hundreds of thousands of persons literally starve to death or lose their homes while we pay accountants and attorneys to protect what is "ours"?

The church has no more need to repent of its past for racism or slavery or the Holocaust or the Inquisition or the Crusades. We blame governments for not doing enough for the masses but we give the masses little reason to believe in the mission and ministry of Christ's Holy Church.

The repentance of the Church, it seems to me, is for the "here and now".