Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Faith or Fear: the only real choice

Isaiah 61:10-62:3 Galatians 4:4-7 Luke 2:21-40

The 1st Sunday after Christmas almost always seems anti-climactic because the festive fury of Christmas reaches a particular crescendo and then suddenly dies down – or completely out. It is as if the Story that began to unfold with so much excitement and anticipation only came about in a few short weeks and then abruptly ended. To make matters worse, at least according to the church calendar, we will move into Lent in a few short weeks. So what began as the fevered pitch of excitement and anticipation at our welcoming the birth of Messiah will come to a somewhat sinister conclusion at Calvary when man utterly rejects Him, even as we know how that turns out.

This is one of the reasons why I am not entirely comfortable with the Advent season. Lent is another story and another sermon altogether, of course, but the anticipation of what will come in Advent with a BANG and a CRASH will die out as soon as everyone realizes that the Christmas season is over. The only regrets will be in saying goodbye to loved ones who came to spend the holidays with us or figuring out what to do with the ugly neck tie or the fruitcake some “thoughtful” soul gave to us.

Life goes on, however. Even during the time of Jesus’ birth, there was still much to be done and years to come before Jesus would enter into His public ministry. Until His appointed time, He is raised in the faith of His parents. In order to enter into the faith of His parents, He is brought into the Covenant by the faith of His parents. Few seem to notice or care that Jesus’ parents did not decide to “let the Boy wait until He can make His own profession of faith”. Jesus the boy, the child of Mary and Joseph, was very intentionally and rightly brought forth by His parents and was given into that about which is written, “an everlasting covenant” (Genesis 17:7, 13b) established by the Lord God. According to what is written in Genesis, it is a Covenant with no shelf life, no expiration date. It is, according to the Lord God Himself, “everlasting”.

What far too many misunderstand about the nature of a Covenant is that such a Covenant is a divine promise. It is, by its very nature, the essence of the Lord, and each Covenant the Lord has offered has come by its very nature: eternal and divinely imparted to man regardless of man’s actions. That is to say, the Lord’s Covenant is His promise, His Word. If we believe in the eternal nature of the Lord God Himself, then we must surely understand that His promise is as eternal as He is; it does not stand only until He changes His mind, for it is written: “I am the Lord; I do not change.” Malachi 3:6

Something to remember in exploring the nature of a Covenant: one might suggest that Mary and Joseph were under the threat of LAW and would have been bringing the Boy regardless. Such a thought is not consistent with the reality, however, that the Holy Father entrusted Himself as a Child, as a helpless infant, into the care of such faithful and favored souls. For everything that has been and will be asked of Mary and Joseph, these are persons who obviously live by faith, not fear.

In Luke’s reading, it is also notable that “the Child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about Him” (Luke 2:33) by Simeon, a man blessed by the Holy Spirit. He was promised by the Lord Himself that he would not see death until he had placed his own eyes upon the Messiah. So we are not dealing with people of the Law here who are involved in a legalistic “baby dedication”; we are dealing strictly with people of faith. The Child is being brought into THE COVENANT by his parents. The unusual circumstances of the Child’s birth seem not to be so fresh in the minds of Mary and Joseph; they are only doing the right thing by their God and their Child according to their faith.

The mark of that Covenant, which still exists among our Jewish brethren, happens to be circumcision. And in the continuing traditions and practices of the Jewish faith, the child will make his own proclamation at his Bar-Mitzvah at the age of 13. Obviously a boy cannot be re-circumcised nor is there any need to be, not because the foreskin will have grown back and not because the child did not remember the event, but because the Covenant he was brought into was GOD’S PROMISE, not man’s.
The Covenant came to life because GOD MADE IT, not man. And the Covenant is the real deal because GOD MADE IT SO, not man. And the Covenant is everlasting and a done deal because GOD MADE THE PROMISE – it is irrelevant whether the child was old enough to remember it though at Bar-Mitzvah, the child is called upon to recall the Covenant – again – that GOD MADE. The parents, at the child’s bris, merely brought the child into GOD’S PROMISE because they … believed in the Covenant which already existed. It would become, for the child, a Covenant to freely walk away from if the child would so choose; but it was not, and is not, a Covenant the parents are free to withhold from their children.

So Paul challenges the practice of circumcision according to his understanding of the New Covenant and grace, so this is not necessarily about the validity of the physical act and certainly not about Paul’s understanding of the need for circumcision. We are, indeed, people of the New Covenant; the mark of this New Covenant is baptism. It is our duty and privilege as Christians and parents of the New Covenant to bring our young children into that New Covenant – GOD’S PROMISE, not ours, to offer all people of faith eternal life.

But even this is not about the difference between Calvinists who refute the validity of infant baptism and Arminians who uphold ALL baptism – including that of infants. It is about the sacramental nature of the Covenant. And, ultimately, about our faith.

Being a Sacrament of the Church, it is understood that Baptism, the mark of the New Covenant, then, is evidence of the Lord’s giving of Himself. It is understood that a Sacrament is HIS ACT, not man’s. Just like Holy Communion as a gathering of all Covenant people – and yes, incidentally, though “legally”, unbaptized children should not be allowed to participate in Holy Communion. There again, however, is the tricky part about explaining to a young child why he or she cannot have some Jesus! To explain to a young child why he or she is excluded from GOD’S PROMISE, especially when Jesus said: “Let the little children come to Me and DO NOT PROHIBIT THEM …”

Before us as reasonable persons, then, is but this one choice and has nothing to do with man-made traditions. We can continue to live in FEAR of doing the wrong thing the wrong way at the wrong time … or we can choose to live in FAITH that the Right Thing has already been done and is divinely imparted to us. Finally and completely. No apologies, no doubts. No Fear.

It is, ultimately, the choice responsible Christian parents make not for their children but for their GOD to bring all whom we are responsible for and entrusted with to Him and into Him through the New Covenant, the Promise He has made for all time. It is our duty and privilege to share – but it is NOT ours to withhold.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas 2008

It’s been a tough year for many with the US economy in a tail spin and jobs being lost by the thousands. As pastor of a church that administers a food pantry, I’ve become more acutely aware of the challenges so many face in such a harsh economic climate. I’ve also become more aware of those who spend most of their time attempting to get something for nothing and will do or say most anything to get what they want. I suppose I could say more about these but they are merely incidental, if something of a pain. If we give groceries to one-hundred persons but only one among these many is that one who is genuinely in need (and does not hesitate to express such profound gratitude), then I suppose it will all have been worth it.

It is both heart-wrenching and somewhat encouraging to hear news reports about how the American Christmas shopper is being much more cautious about holiday spending and traveling; heart-wrenching in that so many of these are either about to lose their jobs or are living in fear of what may happen tomorrow at work, and encouraging in that perhaps some of these are rethinking the notion that Christmas must be expensive in order to be good. Though many of these who are being tight-fisted are likely being more practical than spiritual, it is always good that we get reason to pause so that we may reconsider the priorities of our lives. Still, it is sad to hear of so many who consider Christmas Eve or Day worship services to be obstacles to be planned around in favor of family or friendship gatherings.

I often wonder if I expect too much. I lost my secular job earlier this year and suddenly found myself caught up in the fear, anxiety, and uncertainty that this economy produced. I was in the big middle of a constantly shrinking job market and wondering where my own future would take me. Thankfully, I was able to make the transition from part-time to full-time ministry, but there was a lot of financial ground lost in the interim. I find myself now being somewhat tight-fisted and questioning my reasoning: am I in spiritual protest against the consumer-driven Christmas rush, or am I also caught up in the fear of uncertainty when even I begin to question my own faith?

I recall Christmases past as a small boy with mixed emotions. I always loved Midnight Mass and the wonderment of the Christmas story, but I also remember that it was a great way to help the time pass between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. And I remember all the brightly colored packages under the tree, more than any should have, and my parents almost always put a special present somewhere else. For instance, I will never forget the Christmas when I got my first shotgun. I didn’t even ask for it, and my dad had it hidden behind the couch! What a great Christmas that turned out to be, although I soon found myself a little bored with the whole thing because I could not “play” with the shotgun just any ol’ time I pleased. It was, after all, a weapon.

As I came of age and began playing Santa for my own children, the reality of those abundant Christmases we had enjoyed as children began to hit home. I never realized what a financial burden my parents had placed upon themselves to give us a “good” Christmas until I soon found myself up to my ears in debt. And for what? Worthless crap that would not last. Oh, there would always be the occasional toy or special prize that would be remembered and cherished and valued, but for the most part the presents were just additional packages to be unwrapped to somehow make Christmas more fun.

Soon enough I became more spiritually aware of how far away from the Lord we actually move during what is supposed to be the holiest day of the year when we spend all we have – and then some! - giving our children more than they could ever possibly need or even appreciate and then dropping some left-over change in the Salvation Army buckets as a mere afterthought. It began to haunt me that the financial pain I was feeling may have been more a judgment against me than merely a result of carelessness on my part.

Even now, however, I still feel a little inadequate that I cannot give to my children all that MY own heart desires. They are old enough to understand the challenges we faced this past year, so they’ve not asked for much at all. And because they seem to “get it”, I want to give them even more.

What my wife and I have managed to give our children over the years, however, is a stable home and an abiding faith. We have raised decent children who are turning into decent adults who will one day make positive contributions to church and society and will soon enough raise up children of their own. Most importantly, however, my wife and I finally wised up and gave our children the Greatest Gift any child can receive from a parent: we gave Christmas back to Christ.

Always remember that there is no such thing as a “better” Christmas than any Christmas past, for the real Christmas – the birth of Messiah – will always stand as the best Christmas of all. For this reason alone, such a holy day deserves all our hearts, minds, souls, strength, and will.

Merry Christmas,


Friday, December 19, 2008

For Better or Worse

It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve written anything seriously. The plain truth is that I have been somewhat under the weather and have just not had much to seriously contemplate. Even my sermons these past couple of weeks have been, in my own opinion, completely lacking in substance. Maybe they’ve been adequate at least for some, but I certainly didn’t walk away feeling very good about any of it.

It doesn’t help much that we are in the midst of the Christmas season which is, for most, a joyous and happy time. Not so much for me, though. I’m not a Scrooge or a Grinch, but I am more of a quiet, “Silent Night” sort of person who likes a home that is tastefully decorated for Christmas with maybe some candles burning here and there, a faint and almost imperceptible, glowing flicker of light but not the loud, flashing, multi-colored lights that challenge a city’s power grid. The hustle-and-bustle I absolutely loathe. The mindless spending and grabbing and buying and selling I detest.

I am even at an awkward place geographically that will require that I spend virtually the entire holiday season on the road driving from one end of the state to the other if I want to see everyone in the family, some I’ve not seen in at least a year. Truth be told, it matters more to my wife than to me because I am not a “this is what Christmas is all about” kind of guy. Christmas is about Christ, pure and simple. It is about the New Covenant that the Lord God has offered to all of mankind. It is a promise He has made to us all, and we repay Him by twisting and turning this holy day into anything but a holy day. Christmas is now exactly what we have made it to be.

It is amusing to me that so many “militants” will demand that Christ be put back into Christmas, but these same people will not be in churches on Christmas Eve and certainly not on Christmas Day because they have other plans. Oh, there are exceptions as there must always be, of course, but far too many have re-created for themselves a new Winter Solstice with Christmas being merely incidental, not the other way around.

Experts have suggested that there is no way Jesus could have been born in December, that He was likely born in May or June based on what is written in Scripture and maybe a few other sources of information. If this is true, or if December 25 can even be absolutely ruled out, then let the Church return to the time closest to that of the actual birth date of Jesus and “retake” (as my militant friends would say) Christmas for what it is supposed to be: the celebration of the birth of Christ.

I remain convinced that people are leaving the Church overall not because one church is lacking this or the other church is lacking that but because the Church is not a consistent voice of integrity. Too many churches have helped the Church Universal to compromise its moral integrity and authority by bowing to the whims and wishes of a people at large who have no idea what they really want or need, so they bend and sway according to the latest trends or go running to the church with the shiniest baubles. And they are always unsettled because fads fade in favor of something else, anything else so long as it is different.

For these who bend and sway, the foundation they sorely lack – but sorely need - is constantly shifting and is never stable. A sudden shift to the right or to the left they might notice and even resist, but subtle changes made almost imperceptibly over time will help them to shift right or left according to design of the entertainment or the skilled leader. Think about it: how can a nation as the US, which claims to be over 80% Christian, be so mindlessly consumed at Christmas about everything except Christ-mass? The so-called “commercialism” is only being noticed this year because so many have lost, or are losing, jobs and homes and cars and … and ….

For the sake of reclaiming what was once the holiest day of the Christian calendar, this economic melt-down could not have come at a better time. My prayer is that we may see this time not as a curse but as the True Blessing we’ve been lacking for so long.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Commercialism and Christmas: the curse and the blessing

I always get roused up this time of year watching people fleeting from here to yonder, worrying about creating for themselves and their loved ones “the best Christmas ever”. By the time Christmas actually arrives, these same people are so wrung out and exhausted from all the anxiety that the end of the Christmas season is quite a welcome sight. It occurs to me, however, that it is not the commercialism, per se, that is the problem with Christmas; I think the problem we have goes much deeper than this, but it is much easier to blame stores and a faceless concept for trying to lead us away from the “reason for the season”. In actuality, it is we Christians who make deliberate choices that lead us away from what Christmas should be about. Commercialism, for better or worse, always has been and always will be. It is how we earn our bread and butter.

Commercialism in and of itself is not inherently evil though it could be construed as the curse brought upon us by Adam’s failure in the Garden of Eden to abide by the Word of the Lord. Because of his disobedience, man was put out of Paradise where all his needs were met and was forced to fend for himself in a world filled with thorns and thistles. Commercialism, then, is an extension of that curse which man has brought upon himself for his disobedience. We live outside of Paradise and must fend for ourselves. Perhaps it is, then, that we simply try to make the best of it.

Christmas brings to us the greatest Gift of all: the Lord’s fully and completely giving of Himself to all of humanity, to walk among us, to teach us, to guide us, to heal us, and to show us the way back to Paradise, our true Home. Because of this tremendous and remarkable Gift we’ve been given, we in turn give. It is our tradition, a tradition that we have tried to pass from generation to generation in trying to teach our young what Christmas is all about: giving. Clearly, however, the concept of what it means to give of oneself has been lost, entirely surrendered to the world of thorns and thistles.

The problem begins when we fall prey to this mindless, senseless demon better known as “consumption” or, more specifically, mindless consumption. It begins to overtake us when we, for instance, decide that our current TV (which is working just fine, by the way) is no longer good enough and we opt for the bigger, better, more technologically advanced model. And since such electronic devices have virtually no resale value, we either give the old one away or put it in the bedroom or wherever. Soon enough, this newer, bigger, better TV will be obsolete (at least in our consumption-driven mind) and in need of replacement. And Lord help us when marketers convince us of the newest “must-have” toy. Whether we need it or not, we will seek it out and pay top dollar for it. As evidenced in the past, some are willing to take a beating – or give a beating – over the last one on the shelf. We have no real need for it and have done quite well without it, but we will have allowed ourselves to be convinced that the value of our lives, or the lives of our loved ones, will somehow be forever diminished for lack of it.

Commercialism is not the problem; it is our mindless consumption mentality that leads us farther away from the true Spirit of Christmas, that Spirit being the Lord God. Without Him and His grace and mercy, there is no Christmas … period. And truly, theologically, the farther removed from Christmas we are, the farther removed from Him we are.

Christmas, for all intents and purposes, no longer exists within our contemporary society. And because Christmas is exclusively a Christian Holy Day, we Christians have no one to blame but ourselves because we are fully on board with what has become nothing more than a Winter Solstice and have fallen in line with the pagans who have overwhelmed us and influenced us rather than the other way around. And we have fallen victim to such nonsense almost mindlessly, certainly blindly, because we have believed commercials over the Bible.

I wish I had an answer that would be palpable for Christians. If a suggestion is made to parents of young children that each child get only one toy and perhaps one article of clothing and nothing else in favor of more generous gifts to a charity, these parents will likely react as if someone had lost complete control of their senses. How can “my” child face other children after Christmas who got this and this and those and that, but “my” child ONLY got this? What will the neighbors think? How our children would come to hate us if we somehow “cheated” them on Christmas! How they would soon come to hate Christmas!!

The truth is our children and our children’s children are being cheated out of Christmas and are being handed over to the pagan festival that has no mind, no soul, and no purpose. The only celebration is that of being capable of spending money for one’s own pleasure. One feels “cheated” only if there is not enough money to buy all the stuff our hearts desire, failing to realize that the birth of the Christ is still very real. Somehow, though, without the newest, latest, biggest, best device or toy, Christmas just isn’t the same, not quite so shiny or even desirable. How sad.

The bright spot in all this is that we did not arrive at this point overnight, so we will not be able to overcome the mentality overnight, but it can be done. Over time, if Christians are willing to lead by example and show the joy that Christmas is, to prove it beyond any doubt, the evidence abundant in our hearts would be compelling to many, those who need to hear it most. After all, who would desire all the cultural anxiety we only bring upon ourselves? Certainly not I.

The dull spot is that as long as Christian churches forego the Christmas services because far too many will opt out of worship in favor of parties and family gatherings (after all, this is what Christmas is really all about, right?), the Church herself will have surrendered her moral authority as the herald of the Gospel. The message will have been completely lost, and the flicker of the lighted candle of hope will be finally snuffed out.

One must still believe in miracles to have hope enough that this can change. My prayer is that there is sufficient faith among Christ’s disciples that we can one day claim and proclaim Christmas for what it truly is: a Divine Message of Hope and not a shopping season.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

State of the Union ... not so good

I am continually haunted by the image invoked in my mind whenever I read about Jdimytai Damour of Queens NY who was trampled to death by a crowd at a Wal Mart store on Long Island NY. Mr. Damour was a temp worker who made the mistake of being in the wrong place at the wrong time: being among a bunch of brutal savages who were determined to beat the person behind them to items that was being marked down for Black Friday’s special sale. “Brutal savages” may seem harsh until one reads further to find that whenever store management was preparing to close the store at the request of the police and had announced over the PA that the store would close because an employee had been killed, shoppers only expressed anger that they had been waiting in line for so long. Absolutely no remorse over the knowledge that some of these angry, “inconvenienced” shoppers might have actually and directly contributed to this innocent man’s death.

There were others who were hurt in the stampede as well, including those who tried to go to the aid of Mr. Damour. One can only imagine the mayhem that must have been so apparent … over a few lousy dollars. If anything, and in light of the sorry state of our economy, one might have been better off just holding on to the money instead of being in such a rush to spend it, in such a rush that the well-being of a fellow human being was not even incidental except that perhaps others could have tripped over him and shared his fate. Or being slowed down so as to miss that special, marked-down item. Pitiful is not adequate to express my feelings toward these “humans” who were reduced to nothing more than animals without emotion.

Those who actually felt the man beneath their feet are absolutely and unequivocally accountable to the law and to this man’s family for their part in his death, and it is extremely unsettling to know that these mindless animals would do the very same thing to your loved ones or mine. These people actually knocked the doors off the hinges once the store opened, so large and unruly and unmanageable was the crowd. Surely stores have to take their part in all this and consider what will be required to make absolutely certain such a thing never happens again.

Still, it is not the first time such things have happened – at Christmas time, no less – and what happened on Long Island will not likely be the last. Each year produces that one special “must have” toy or item that has actually seen adults come to blows over the last item on the shelf. Think of the anarchy of such a situation: it is not matter of who got there first; rather, it becomes a battle over who is stronger and more willing to harm another human being … over a friggin’ toy.

Rest in peace, Mr. Damour. I wish I could say with confidence that your untimely death will not have been in vain, but I am afraid your name will soon enough be forgotten and the only thing those responsible will be sorry about is whether or not the law catches up with them.

A New Reality

Eschatology; aka, “doomsday prophecy”, or “last things”, “last days”, return of Christ, end of the world. Call it what you will, but one day time and life as we currently know it will come to an end. It sounds ominous, but the truth is this is probably the very best news throughout the entire Bible. No one knows exactly what these times or days will look like, and it is actually probably for the best. Mark offers a visual of Christ descending from heaven “in clouds”, but there is not much else besides this.

The several images from The Revelation are not much help as it pertains to what we are looking for or even should be looking for since much of what John offers in The Revelation is heavily dependent on symbols and incomprehensible images. Clearly there is a message in all this imagery, but I sometimes wonder how important that particular message must be if it is so written in such a “code” that most of us cannot figure out.

It may also seem strange that the lectionary will offer such “end times” readings on the first Sunday of Advent as what is offered in Mark, but the reality is we have already experienced the birth of Christ. It is fitting and right that we should remember and celebrate that moment in time when perhaps the earth stood still and silent if but for a brief moment to welcome the Prince of Peace, but it is also appropriate for Christians to look forward with eager anticipation when the reality we have come to know as “normal” will be suddenly and completely changed … forever. This is a GOOD THING!

Thinking about the season we are about to enter into and what it must mean to all of humanity, Moses and the Exodus came to mind. Something incredible is about to take place, but not even Moses knows exactly what it will look like. The Lord clearly has something in mind, but it is not for man to know or even try to overthink such a divine mission. It should be enough for the faithful that it is in the Lord’s hands; sadly, however, this is not always true for us.

What is most astounding about the Exodus is its very essence. It would have been easy enough to make dramatic changes in Egypt itself, but the framework would still have been confined, if not downright restricted, within the borders of what must surely have been an unclean land. Rather than push for social and religious change within an existing society, it was to be that an entire New Reality would be created. So by the mighty hand of the Lord and with the mass of an entire people, Israel was freed from its 400-year bondage. There still lay ahead a 40-year journey before arrival at the destination, but the journey is part of the story – THEN and NOW.

There is a journey ahead for the faithful, and it is not conducive to the journey that we look behind us. We can and should be mindful of the mighty acts of the Lord on this incredible journey of faith, but we must never look back. And if we do not learn to look beyond the end of our noses, Christmas will always be anti-climactic.

Advent is a time of preparation, and we certainly cannot prepare ourselves for something that has already taken place. We must look forward and be prepared to forge ahead toward what will certainly become for the Lord’s faithful a New Reality, a reality in which shoppers will not storm the doors of a store and trample people to death as happened this past week in Long Island NY. A lady will not be punched in the mouth by another over the last Cabbage Patch doll, and no one will ever have to worry again about whether there is enough money to give the kids all the “stuff” their little, innocent hearts would desire to be under the tree.

Who would want to remember all that or prepare and hope for more of the same? These things are certainly in the past, but they are also our currently reality; it is where we are. Yet most of us have fond memories of Christmases past and many of us look forward to our family gatherings and celebrations, but think about how much time and energy is put into preparing for a 21st century Christmas – and how uppity we get when folks try to remove Christ from Christmas – and then give the Lord so little of ourselves. If we were to actually log each moment of each day during the time of Advents past and perhaps even now and then read it on Christmas Eve, I think we would be shocked at how little time was actually devoted to the Lord – especially in light of what we claim to believe about the birth of the Christ.

I think perhaps the birth of Messiah was the beginning of a New Reality but rather than accept it for what it was meant to be for us and for His Glory, we turned it into something else and we sufficiently “secularized” it as something much more pleasing to ourselves and our loved ones. Our “celebration”, as it is, is like what my family experienced over Thanksgiving. My wife spent HOURS preparing the menu and cooking the food. Once we finally got settled at the table, it took all of TEN MINUTES for everyone to say, “I’m full”. Then it was over. Except, of course, for the mess.

If Advent is used by the Church as nothing more than a prepatory time of remembrance, then it will be over almost before it has truly begun. Once the presents and packages have been opened, it’s over. The spirit of Christmas is no more, and we will actually BE GLAD that another busy, sometimes overwhelming Christmas, is past. Poof. Just like that. It will be as if merely getting through it with our sanity intact is destination enough for us.

All of this is solid evidence that we are in desperate NEED for a New Reality; our souls are virtually crying out for this madness to end, but we continue AND DEFEND our secular practices as if our very lives are dependent upon them. And we will call the preacher a kill-joy … my own family does … but deep down inside the very depths of the soul, you know I am speaking nothing but truth. You may not like it … my own family doesn’t … but you cannot deny it.

If there is some such thing as a “Christmas Wish”, mine would be that we would finally and completely have the courage to stand firm in our faith and say, “ENOUGH”. I get it now; I finally get it. CHRISTmas really is about the Christ, not Sears or Wal Mart or Bloomingdale’s. My Dear God in Heaven, it’s not even about my family or friends. It is solely and completely about my Lord; nothing more, nothing less. My wish, you see, is that I will truly and finally come to understand this. My prayer is that you will, too.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Freedom of Choice: the destruction of a generation

In the midst of an economic crisis in which hundreds of thousands of Americans have already lost jobs and many thousands more are in danger of losing their jobs with no reasonable prospects in the near future, the president-elect of the United States offered to the Planned Parrenthood Action Fund on July 17, 2007: "The first thing I'd do as president is sign the Freedom of Choice Act. That's the first thing that I'd do."

Whether his comment was nothing more than empty campaign rhetoric directed at a particular crowd or a solemn vow made to a nation, it is difficult to believe that in the middle of such a melt-down in which so many are losing so much and face an uncertain future, the soon-to-be-inaugurated president of this nation can only believe that furthering the cause of abortion is a prudent and urgent priority. And if there are those who might suggest that candidate/senator Obama could not have known then how serious the economy would be today, I would suggest that he might have spent more time in the Senate doing his job than being on the road seeking another job.

Back on track, however. The very idea that such a proposal as the so-called Freedom of Choice Act could even be seriously discussed among civilized people is an affront to everything we claim to hold near and dear. The bill effectively stipulates that no state can restrict access to abortion on any level. This means no waiting periods, no questions, no exams, no warnings. By its wording, it could come down to the government obligating itself to actually financing, building, and staffing abortion clinics due to the fact that there are so many counties lacking in such facilities across the nation. The language would further obligate the US government to begin financing abortions through Medicaid. In other words, the government would be obliged to move beyond protecting the “culture of death” and into the actual business of promoting and facilitating death.

Within the wording of this bill, there is even the risk that minor children (not “women” in any sense of the word) who cannot obtain an abortion without parental consent or who cannot be transported across state lines by another adult will, under the guise of this bill, find themselves flush with new opportunities to obtain an abortion (not to mention the possible adult male who made such pregnancy possible in the first place, who can then take the CHILD to another state to eliminate the evidence). The possiblilities which exist under the wording of this proposal are endless, including the deliberate termination of the life of a child who survived the abortion procedure. And we think there are cultures less civilized than our own?

The whole rationale driving this bill to so-to-be President Obama’s desk is faulty, to say the least. Most of the existing restrictions pertain to underaged minor children making such decisions without the knowledge and/or consent of her parents. This is allowing the intercession of courts or other adults with no real stake in such a monumental decision except maybe a misguided concept of what “liberty” really means (or making such damning evidence disappear). These same adults will not be around to help clean up the emotional mess that is sure to follow, as statistics and testimony from countless women will attest to. These adults who would presume to know better than a girl’s own parents what is best for the pregnant child would be no more responsible than to see to it that the child is delivered safely back home.

Parents whose children will have endured such a traumatic event will have no clue why their daughter’s grades have begun to fall or why their child has suddenly withdrawn from life altogether. This child will be without the needed help because her parents will have been clueless as to what took place. If the parents were to find out that their child was taken across the state line, they would have no legal recourse.

If we are going to go this route and if this bill can actually make such things possible, then we may as well end the charade of differentiating between adult and child by such an arbitrary measure as biological age and make adulthood contingent upon puberty. Then the former child can quit school if desired, can get married, can enter into legal contracts, buy booze, or join the military. Such scenarios are not completely outside the realm of reason if we are going to allow minor children to take on such decisions as deciding whether to obtain an abortion without parental consent.

If such a bill actually becomes law, we parents will have relegated to the government our God-given, divinely ordained duties and responsibilties and surrendered our children to strangers, the same strangers we will have taught them to be leary of. By such actions it will not be exclusively the thousands of aborted children who will never see the light of day. The generation that was to be are those whose innocence will have been sacrified … for the sake of “liberty”.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Expectations and Demands

The separation of church and state is an ideal that was expressed by Thomas Jefferson in a letter he wrote in 1802 in which he offered his interpretation of the First Amendment, the intent of which he believed was to “build a wall of separation between Church and state”. Contrary to certain opinion, that particular phrase is not used in the US Constitution; rather, it is expressed and implied. It is not clear that Mr. Jefferson intended much more than to express his belief that the government must remain absolutely neutral in matters of religious faith and practice, believing, as he wrote, “that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship.”

Also contrary to popular opinion, Thomas Jefferson was a diest rather than a Christian. He believed in the morality of Bible, but he did not seem to embrace Christian doctrines of man. He even actually rewrote his own version of the Bible and removed the “miracles” among other things. Long story short, especially since this is not about Thomas Jefferson, not only did he believe that government must stay out of the religion business completely; he also believed that the Church should not expect to use government to enforce its doctrines.

Believing that this nation was founded solely by those seeking religious freedom is not entirely accurate. Oh, there were some who did flee Europe in search of a place in which to be free from religious persecution, but it was not in Puritan Massachussetts where Governor John Winthrop’s ideal of a “shining city upon a hill” was the very essence of religious Intolerance, meaning that it was the Puritan way across the board or no way at all. Even in religious matters among religious people it had become necessary for preacher Roger Williams to flee from THAT religious eutopia for the sake of his very life because he believed that government and religion are not compatible.

The concept of the separation of Church and state is both comforting and problematic. In one sense, it reminds us that the power of our government is constitutionally restricted in several matters, religion being but one. It is comforting to know that we are free to attend the church of our choice without fear. It is problematic in that our religion is our primary source of moral value. We typically “do” or “don’t” because the Bible says so. Our understanding of ethical behavior stems in no small measure from our understanding of what the Lord requires of us. Christians generally do not concern themselves with what Plato or Socrates may have thought or taught.

How can such understandings be problematic on any level? It is much in the same way that some Christians will deny the legitimacy of infant baptism while others will defend it. One will insist that the other is WRONG, refusing to acknowledge that a difference of opinion and understanding exists. And this is just one particular religious doctrine. Imagine some of our social hot-button issues! If we thought partisan politics was a mess, imagine adding religious doctrine to it! In Puritan Massachussetts such disagreements over religious doctrines as a matter of state policy could become a matter of life or death by the decree of a single person. So much for “religious freedom”; just ask Roger Williams! It would be more accurate to express the ideal that one would be “free” only to agree with the prevailing human authority according to that authority’s understanding.

The separation of Church and state is problematic also in that a religious “litmus” test is expressly prohibited by Article VI of the US Constitution. Such a prohibition suggests that we are not supposed to even consider a person’s religion as we determine his or her fitness for office. Well, good luck with that one. Because we do. Measure. A Person’s Value. According to whether that person’s religious point of view is compatible with our own.

When we do begin to apply or even impose our standards of religion in such ways, it is possible that we blur what should be a distinct line of separation not between Church and state but between that which is holy and that which is not and become downright unreasonable in our demands and expectations. So then it is not a matter of secular constitutional requirements. Instead it becomes a matter of actually taking from the Lord and giving over to “Caesar” rather than merely separating one from the other.

The Pharisees were trying to trick Jesus into either alienating Himself from the people or from the Roman government, and they mistakenly used the one thing that has absolutely no real value in the kingdom of Heaven. Even still, I don’t think money or taxes were themselves the real issues that the Pharisees were trying to raise with Jesus. The real problem, or the real challenge, for Christians is in making a distinction between that which really does exclusively belong to the secular government and that which is exclusively holy.

The main difference between such separations in what we offer comes down to a difference between that which is given freely and that which is compulsory under threat of law. Would we freely and voluntarily withhold from our income a portion set aside exclusively for the government? The reality is that we must contribute to our society in such a way but the other truth of that reality is that if we DON’T, we could go to prison and/or have our assets and property confiscated. Whether we like it or not, the taxes WILL be paid.

What happens, however, when we withhold from the Lord? And please know that I am not talking exclusively about tithes or money. What happens if we do not go to church? What happens if we do go to church, but we expect to be entertained rather than to come with an open and willing heart, ready to worship? What happens if we withhold our financial support from the Church because we don’t like the music or we don’t like the preacher or we don’t like a particular person or we don’t like the color of the choir robes?

Nothing. In this life and in the moment, absolutely nothing will happen. The world will not stop spinning on its axis, and the stars and moon will remain right where they are. Life will pretty much continue as before. For as long as that life lasts. We will remain wrapped in our own cocoon of self-preservation, and we will live according to our own desires, expectations, and demands. No one will be the richer for our behavior, to be sure, but no one will be any poorer for it.

In that self-sustaining world, however, Love does not exist except the love we might have only toward those things and people who suit us, those things we can actually see and feel or taste and touch. And those things exist solely for the purpose of pleasing us. That is not Love; it is a life sentence.

That which belongs to the Lord God is that which has already been offered and is freely given for no reason other than love. It is that we are consciously aware that such a thing took place some 2000 years ago for no reason other than love. And if any among us are so geared in such a way that the word “love” makes us uncomfortable, then call it a Remarkable Gift. It is a Gift with no strings, no demands, no expecations. Only an offer of Life. There is nothing we have to do before we choose to receive this Remarkable Gift except to believe it possible. After that, the Lord will take care of the rest … IF we are willing.

There is no document that requires the Lord to offer this; there is only His heart. Shall we break that Heart, or shall we fulfill it?

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Certain Realities

As I was reading over some previous thoughts I’d written recently, I came across one tidbit that caught my eye and mind even more now than when I wrote it: lotteries never made problems disappear. Now that the lottery initiative has passed in Arkansas, I am left to wonder exactly what is important to Arkansans in the midst of an economic meltdown in which thousands of Americans are losing jobs each month but few new jobs are being created. Many are losing their homes through no fault of their own, and there are no real prospects for recovery until we figure out how to put Americans back to work.

In the midst of this certain reality, Arkansans decided that we need a lottery. Amazing. Incredible. Unbelievable. There is widespread financial calamity, banks are failing, people have no savings (and subsequently, no money for banks to loan), and Social Security is on the verge of collapse; yet Arkansans decided that a lottery, a game of chance that will benefit the very few (those who might win and those who wanted to go to college but were unable to acquire grants, loans, or scholarships in the past), has been what Arkansas has been lacking all this time. Arkansas has never been a real booming state for employment opportunities yet through due diligence and determination, Conway AR landed a 1200-new-jobs employer … without the benefit of a lottery.

I cannot adequately express my profound disappointment in this lottery initiative being approved, but my disappointment has little to do with my own personal or religious objections. It has more to do with the fact that one of this state’s constitutional officers has devoted his entire political existence to this lottery’s passage; I’m not aware that he has done much else such as using his office and its resources as well as his obvious sales talent to figure out new ways to help Arkansas businesses expand their operations and HIRE MORE PEOPLE. Or figure out what it will take to attract even more new businesses to set up shop in Arkansas.

I will live with it, of course, and I do have a certain level of respect for the process that allowed citizens to vote on the measure. There is little else I can do now beyond hope and pray that we will not be led to burning incense or sacrificing animals at the altar of the gaming gods as if we have finally discovered our true salvation. I think in the end, though, every objection that was raised will soon enough be realized as we come to discover that all we did was to create another state agency whose sole purpose of existence will be to convince Arkansans to spend more of what little money many have on a one-in-several-million chance of maybe hitting “the big one” … as if money ever solved any real problems.

My presidential choice did not win, yet this great republic has endured and come Jan 20, Mr. Obama will become my president and yours. My choices for the US Senate and the US House didn’t do much better (can I pick ‘em, or what?), but this lottery initiative I find to be gravely disappointing. As with any other election, however, we get what we ask for and in the end, we are called, as a civilized people, to respect the choices of the majority.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Right Where We Are

Another election has come and gone, and I cannot say that I am surprised at the outcome especially as we continue to endure the current economic environment. The various results of this election were not as I had hoped, but I understand that people are tired and more than a little fearful as jobs are disappearing by the thousands with no end in sight. Markets have taken such a beating that many among the elderly are afraid that all they have to live on could disappear in one bad decision before they would even realize what happened. And let’s face it: these are the majority of citizens who voted. I do not necessarily believe in the “change” that was the mantra of a successful campaign, but of this I am sure: we cannot continue on the current course.

Capitalism unchecked (that is, without sufficient regulation) is akin to anarchy: only the strong survive. The rest are at the mercy of those who make the rules and call the shots. Falling gasoline prices is solid evidence that a free market will respond to a certain reality, but our economy as it is right now is in a freefall into an abyss. The “experts” are unable to tell us where the bottom is or what that bottom may look like, so it is little wonder that voters chose to go in another direction, hoping to reverse the downward spiral.

Make no mistake. Mr. Obama is not going to be able to wave a magic wand and make all the bad stuff go away. He is only a man; he is not a messiah or Moses or Martin Luther King incarnate. President-elect Obama faces some rather daunting challenges that can be seriously addressed only if the entire Congress, Republicans included, will focus on the matters at hand and not on the mid-term elections of 2010.

There is much to be done in the coming years, but citizens of this republic are going to have to do more than simply show up to vote. We are going to have to become better informed (in an age in which being uninformed is simple complacency or sheer laziness) and more involved in the political process. Our voices in the Congress must know what we expect from them; that they are required to represent us and not attempt to lead us. In this and in many other areas, we must be willing to take responsibility for the future of our nation as well as to prepare to suffer the consequences that will surely come if government is left to its own.

This is where we are. Whether we got what we wanted in this election is not nearly as important as making the most of what we have. Expect debate and disagreement, but demand and offer respect. And know that in the end, we will get exactly what we asked for. Let us continue to hope, for this is the ideal of America herself. All is well if we want it to be.

Monday, November 03, 2008

I Just Do Not Know

I am at a total loss as to how I feel about tomorrow’s election. I expect that in the midst of a recession, such as happened in 1992 when the Republican George H.W. Bush lost the presidency to Democrat Bill Clinton, a change of party might be the order of the day. I don’t know that party affiliation will matter much, but the perception that we are making some profound change can be compelling. Right now, Republicans are not the party “du jour”.

I am uncomfortable with what I perceive to be Obama’s socialist leanings, but I am not entirely adverse to this government doing something to protect American jobs although I should think that tax BREAKS instead of tax INCREASES would likely come closer to producing that desired result, but what do I know?
Here are a few things I think I know:

Tax breaks have created jobs in the past
• Just because “the poor” get extra money to spend for groceries and utilities does not mean that the economy will recover as a result.
A recovering and expanding economy will result in much greater opportunites for the poor than simply extra money for the light bill
• Lotteries never made any problems disappear
The national debt did not come about only in the last eight years• The housing crisis is caused by GREED from top to bottom, from inside to out (government and lending officials) … PERIOD. Oh, and also by future and soon-to-be-former homeowners who believed they could afford a $500,000.00 home on a $40,000.00 income (is this greed, stupidity, or just wishful thinking?)
It takes more than a couple of years in the US Senate to prepare one for the presidency
• Being an armed forces veteran does not always or necessarily prepare one to serve as commander-in-chief (witness Naval Academy graduate Jimmy Carter)
Obama is NOT a messiah nor is he Moses or MLK incarnate, as has been inferred by more than a few. He is just a man, people; just a man
• Obama is not Islam
The Lord Christ Jesus is NOT running for public office and is not manifest in any candidate. He was not a Democrat or a Republican nor would He ever choose an alliance by which He would clearly be seen as favoring anyone. Jesus would not join parties; parties join Him
• I have no idea what might happen if Obama loses the election though I suspect accusations of voter fraud will be in the offing. It could not possibly be that Obama might actually get fewer votes; it would have to be Republican dirty tricks
I have no idea what a “yellow dog” or “blue dog” Democrat is as opposed to a regular Democrat, but I do know it is ironic that those who are BY GOD Democrats will not vote for Obama but will vote for their Democratic congressman and Democratic senator, both of whom will ultimately support a Democratic president after having publicly supported a Democratic candidate for president. To them, party affilation DOES matter … way much
• Social Security will never be “fixed” unless or until all members of Congress are forced to participate in it (not in addition to the awesome retirement benefits they’ve given themselves; rather, INSTEAD OF …)
Industry regulations are good things if they do not hinder capital investment
• Industry chiefs who are paid hundreds of millions of dollars annually are actually very clever to have been able to land such gigs. It is perhaps the hiring and contract authorities who should have their heads examined … if they can get their heads sufficiently removed from their rectums
Colleges and universities that allow private foundations to subsidize an athletic coach’s salary above and far beyond state-mandated salary caps are compromising the very integrity of the institutions of higher education they claim to represent
• State elected officials who allow colleges and universities to allow private foundations to subsidize athletic coach’s salaries should be removed from office, tarred and feathered, and left standing in the public squares for the duration of an athletic season
The “last days” period as referred to in the Bible and by Christians is now some 2,000 years old and counting ….
• Christians are, on many levels, the most superstitious group of persons
• This election will not necessarily hasten the end of these “last days”, regardless of its outcome
The Lord is not subject to the will of man

I would like to believe such a list to be exhaustive but the truth is there is only so much I actually know although there is probably a lot more that I think I know. In the end, the results of this election will have zero effect on one’s relationship with the Lord. If the Lord is going to choose to manipulate this US election and He is the God of all nations, then why did He not intervene when Saddam Hussein was reelected president of Iraq (his last term, incidentally)?

Be very careful in such feeble attempts to invoke the name of the Lord. The commandment which prohibits such is not exclusively referring to one particular word. We will get from this election exactly what we ask for, so there is no need to attempt spiritual incantations or blasphemy.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Redistribution of Wealth: what are we really talking about?

I am not exactly sure how I feel about this very concept, and I am even less sure that I will ever have confidence in our government’s ability or capacity to determine exactly how this distribution will go or what standards will be applied. To be perfectly honest, I am not even sure what Obama meant when he stated to “Joe the Plumber” that he wanted to “spread the wealth around”. He further explained: “It's not that I want to punish your success. I just want to make sure that everybody who is behind you, that they've got a chance for success too," Obama responded. "My attitude is that if the economy's good for folks from the bottom up, it's gonna be good for everybody ... I think when you spread the wealth around, it's good for everybody." FoxNews.com 10/13/08

The media push to discredit “Joe the Plumber” after he questioned Sen. Obama on his tax plan notwithstanding, there are elements of the Democratic candidate’s vision that I not only question but find highly disturbing mainly because this whole campaign season has been so long on rhetoric and painfully short on substance – from both sides. I do not pretend to fully understand what an Obama presidency will hope or expect to accomplish with his tax proposals, but I am not comfortable with the socialist elements of these statements he has made.

It is not a bad idea that we are always cognizant of the so-called “bottom rungs” of the economic and financial ladder to ensure that equality of opportunity still exists for these people, that everyone has an equal chance to succeed or to fail. When a political candidate starts talking about methods by which to enforce equality of outcome or attempt to forcibly manipulate that outcome, however, I get nervous because the only way such a standard can come to fruition is by government mandate. It is, as is often said, “taking from the rich and giving to the poor” for no reason other than that they are poor. The only way such a concept can be considered just on any level is if it can be proved that the poor somehow had been unjustly denied a reasonable opportunity.

There will always be disparities between the rich and the poor; this gap existed in this country before our nation was even born. It is a reality that some people enjoy certain advantages for varying reasons that do not necessarily mean that an injustice exists. Essentially it is, very generally speaking, that those who enjoy more success are typically those who take initiative and are willing to take risks, if only conservative but certainly calculated risks.

It is not unreasonable to acknowledge that our economy is as it is because such entrepreneurs exist and are willing to stick their necks out. When they do, the economy begins to hum and we all stand an equal chance to benefit from someone else’s willingness to take a risk by buying into a share of that risk by stock purchase or by employment opportunities which may come as a result. I think, then, that the problem which will always exist is not in how we arrive at a point in which we can take advantage of someone else’s good fortune and, undeniably, some measure of good luck: it is in the opportunity which may not always be “equal” but may exist within a system that is entirely “fair”.

If government is going to take away the incentive for reward which comes as the result of even calculated risk by way of higher tax rates, what incentive is left to risk more and employ more if the government is going to take a bigger bite off the top? All things being equal, the tax liability will be greater while other expenses remain the same. There no longer exists an incentive to reach for more or to put any more at risk than is absolutely necessary just to function. None of this even speaks of those whose own ambition and drive have opened doors for them that other less motivated workers only find closed to them.

I doubt there can ever be a system that is completely fair to everyone. I’m not even sure that such a system can be devised that will be more fair to a greater number. What I am sure of is that if left to the government to take and redistribute, by whatever means, and given the complacency of the average American voter to reelect the same incumbents they cursed only a few days before, there will be left in this nation exactly three classes of persons: the rulers (the elected), the very rich (whose wealth politicians will always depend on), and the rest of us. What takes place after this is anyone’s guess.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Unnecessary Risk

Isaiah 45:1-7
1 Timothy 6:6-12
Matthew 25:14-30

It is a delicate balancing act to speak for or against what may appear to be a political issue without sounding political, but I feel I would be remiss in the duties of my office as pastor if I were to remain silent about a particular issue coming before Arkansas voters. I am aware that many see no harm in lotteries - and lotteries seem harmless enough - but we Christians have to look beyond what is right in front of us and make sound choices based on the words of scripture and reason rather than what may seem harmless on its surface, for it is written: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” (Proverbs 16:25 NKJV)

Suggesting that a lottery could be a “way of death” may seem a little over the top, but we cannot afford to accept this proposal at its face value without considering everything it may mean not only to us as individuals and as Christians but also what it could mean to those for whom economic and financial distress are ways of life that seem inescapable. For these people, the illusion of “easy money” is compelling and difficult to resist especially if its ultimate “promise” is college money for their children.

Are we our brother’s keepers? Are we responsible for deciding what might be best for those whose lives seem marked by one failure after another? Are we charged with taking from them a supposed “right” to fall on their own faces, make their own mistakes, and dig their own graves? In a manner of speaking, yes. We are charged in a particular way to serve USEFUL roles as our brother’s keepers, as stewards of the Kingdom’s resources. And these are things we must be mindful of whether this issue passes or not.

It is written in Romans 12:2 that we “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” Is gambling in any form the “perfect will of God”? Or is the notion that it is a harmless vice something the world wishes us to believe and embrace?

It is also written, again in Romans 15:1-2, “We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification (building our neighbor up instead of contributing to his downfall).”

Now just a couple more scripture passages that we must necessarily consider. In 1 Corinthians 3:18-19a it is written: “Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you seems to be wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.”

Finally, consider the words of 1 Corinthians 8:9 in which it is written: “Beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak.”

As I have shared previously, issues that seem to revolve around money such as economics, finance, and gambling – and even tithing - have little to do with money itself. We all need money to live on, to pay our bills, to save for our old age, to offer to the church, to educate our children. Money may not be needed in heaven but as George Bailey told the angel Clarence in the movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life”, money comes in pretty handy down here!

But isn’t money incidental to Kingdom things? Should our lives be spent in pursuit of money? Should money be our sole, if primary, focus in everything we do? It is with gambling, including lotteries. It is taking from the mouth of a hungry child for no reason other than the misguided (and very worldly) hope of acquiring more for ourselves. It is taking from the very hand of the Lord God in a very selfish measure of greed. From a practical standpoint, it is taking from an interest-bearing savings account or tax-deductible donation to a college scholarship fund of one’s choice, both of which will almost certainly pay off in the long run even if it does not seem like much in the beginning. These, of course, are the “sure things”. In gambling, there is no such thing. There are only such sure and certain facts as 80%-90% of gamblers will lose.

How does a lottery measure up to Jesus’ parable of the talents as told in Matthew 25:14-30? One might try to suggest that at least Arkansas’ lottery has the noble intent of ultimately providing college scholarship money but as Bishop Crutchfield points out in his letter to Arkansas Methodists, “the end does not justify the means.” “Only a small percentage of the funds will be used for scholarships.” There will first be expenses, advertising and other production costs, and prizes (if any) to be paid long before “any educational value is realized”.

But Jesus’ challenge goes far beyond even this. The talent itself served as a measure of money in its time, equal to about 6 thousand denarii (a single denarius equaled about a day’s wages for the typical worker), so the sum of money being spoken of is nearly incomprehensible to the folks who were listening to Jesus. And such a huge sum was probably being used in this parable to mean “immeasurable” wealth. This is precisely what Christians are entrusted with even today (immeasurable Kingdom wealth), but the measure has little to do with money itself. It has to do with ANYTHING we’ve been entrusted with by the Lord to do, as the parable points out, “profitable” things for the Master.

In the parable those who used Kingdom money for Kingdom things showed a positive return of the Master’s investment. Having shown themselves trustworthy with so relatively “little”, they were each then entrusted with even more than the “immeasurable” worth of the talents they had started with. However, the one who buried his talent (in parable-speak, kept it to himself and did nothing for the Kingdom) was cast out as “useless” to the Master and to His Kingdom.

One might suggest that the one who did nothing should not have been so severely punished because he didn’t “do” anything evil, but we must remember that doing nothing for the Lord is anti-Lord because Kingdom people are “doers” of the Word (James 1:22). Kingdom people cannot sit idly by while a government, our government, attempts to fool people into believing that it is games of chance that will enhance our lives and serve as our educational “salvation” rather than solid policies that encourage hard work, discipline, and sound investment in an economy in which people can do and provide not only for themselves but also for the society in which we all live.

We cannot afford to be taken in by something that appears to hold promise but is actually an abyss into which we must not fall. Gambling in any form provides nothing positive for our society, and it is a bottomless pit for the faithful. Gambling may indeed be a worldly reality with which we must contend, but it is not a fruit-bearing tree of the Kingdom of Heaven.

It is important that we be mindful of our social obligations in the context of biblical principles, especially in avoiding being part of actively creating that dreaded “stumbling block” that does far more harm to the weak among us than it will ever produce anything positive. The risk is far greater than the reward which, according to reasonable odds and statistics, will never be seen.

Everything in His Name. Amen.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Arrogance of Complacency

I freely admit that even as I try to convince myself that I am a little more open-minded than the average voter, I certainly have my biases. I believe in certain things a certain way. Whether in politics or religion, I can enjoy and even appreciate a conflicting point of view but more often than not will defend my prejudices and priorities.

In our democratic republic, one of the things I absolutely believe in is fair and open elections. More than this, I believe in open and honest debate. In the race for the US Senate seat currently held by Mark Pryor, D-AR, we will not get this because the Green Party candidate, Rebekah Kennedy, made a request to Senator Pryor’s campaign in August that has yet to be answered. That is, until Wednesday 16 Oct when Ms. Kennedy asked Sen. Pryor at the Political Animals Club why he had not answered her request, as reported by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s own Seth Blomeley. Now Sen. Pryor suggests it is “too late” and that he is “busy”.

It should bother us all that, as earlier reported when the Pryor campaign stopped collecting money for this race, Sen. Pryor stated he takes all challenges seriously (in an oblique reference to Ms. Kennedy’s candidacy) but apparently not seriously enough to answer a straightforward inquiry and request from a challenger until confronted in public. This, in my opinion, is being less than honest with voters and is indicative of the prevailing congressional exclusive country club culture to avoid conflicting opinions and honest inquiries from “outsiders” unless or until forced to do so.

No candidate, especially an incumbent, should run unopposed, and every responsible voter should be disappointed that the Republican Party did not mount a challenge in this race. A contested race is the only way an incumbent is forced to account for his or her time in office, and a serious contest will apparently not come to fruition unless it involves a Democrat and a Republican, even while so many decry the existing two-party system.

Absent this contest there is no compelling reason for an incumbent to take unnecessary risks, and I am afraid this is where we find our current senator. He did not answer Ms. Kennedy’s challenge because he did not have to; he will win this election in a walk because he’s a “good ol’ boy” or because his family name is familiar to most Arkansans. Too bad for us all because this will truly be “more of the same” in DC. Same begets same because an unchallenged incumbent has little incentive for “change”, the mantra of most elections.

I hope Ms. Kennedy and other third-party candidates get more serious attention in the future because we can ill afford to continue as we are. Sometime soon we will be jolted from our complacency, and the arrogance that is DC will come crashing down … just as soon as we come to our senses and call all office holders to account with honest questions and straight up debate. Whether they like it or not.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

In the Dark No More

Exodus 32:1-14
Philippians 4:1-9
Matthew 22:1-14

2 Chronicles 7:14

Not to put too fine a point on it, but the current economic crisis has a lot of people running scared and is making a mockery of the election season in which should be a healthy debate and exchange of ideas about where we should go from here. Instead we are treated to a litany of excuses, accusations, truth spin, and finger-pointing, none of which gives the voters a very good idea of what is before us regardless of whom we elect. And we can’t really use what is being told to us now as to how we got here because no one is willing to step up to the plate and accept responsibility. All we can really be sure of at this point is that our days of living high on the hog by borrowing money we didn’t have in the first place instead of saving what little we do have are probably over. At least until the next time.

This may not be an entirely bad thing except for this: when we react out of fear to any situation rather than think it through with calm reasoning and good information, we can make things worse than they really are. And when we encounter and engage in such challenges without faith, there is nothing to lean on except politicians vying for a prominent, if dominant, place in our lives by trying to convince the frightened and uneducated masses that they alone have the answers and can solve all our problems. All we have to do in exchange for this peace of mind is to hand over to them our very souls.

And incidentally, it is my humble opinion that a certain group of pastors in recent news who have chosen to endorse political candidates from their respective pulpits as a matter of protest and challenge to IRS rules are more in sync with the world than with the kingdom of Heaven and are selling out their congregations for a headline. My dearest friends, we are nothing if not Kingdom People.

If this all sounds pretty drastic and overly dramatic, it is. Very much so. Because what we face today is no different than what has confronted not only Americans as a nation more than once but has also challenged man as a whole long before the US was even conceived of as a nation, and Sinai seems to be the crossroad for the faithful. Sad to say, however, we don’t seem to have learned much since then and will likely soon forget this current situation in only a couple of generations.

In Exodus 32 Moses has been away for forty days and nights. For over a month the people have waited, maybe patiently at first, for Moses to bring to them the word of the Lord. This Word will create and solidify a nation wholly called forth for one reason: to proclaim the Lord God to the nations. At this point I’m not even sure that the people are aware of what they are waiting for exactly, and this could partly help to explain their growing impatience, perhaps even fear.

Essentially the Israelites are in the dark as to where they are and where they will go from this point. And there is no indication that Moses told them that he would return in 40 days, so their anxiety is entirely understandable except that this much we should always be mindful of: it was their collective prayer (“I have surely seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt, and I have heard their cry …” Exodus 3:7) as a people that got them this far.

It may also be reasonably said that the people of Israel were completely in the dark as to their place in the story of human history but to be fair, there is no reason for them to believe that the story which has already begun to unfold will eternally be one of the greatest stories ever, a story unmatched on any level, a story that speaks of redemption in such a profound way as to be very nearly incomprehensible. So if the story is incomprehensible, how can it possibly be embraced? And if the story cannot be embraced, how can one be expected to even care, let alone understand?

Are we any better off now than the Hebrews were then? Our Christian theology teaches us that we were redeemed and set free by Christ’s blood at Calvary. Then He was raised from the grave to give us hope for the Resurrection, to show us life after death. After this He ascended into Heaven but will one day return. So far it’s been 2000 years. How much longer do we need to wait before we begin to lose our focus and our patience, and begin to show sings of anxiety and fear? How much longer before we finally succumb to other gods?

Far too many people believe this nation is going to Hades in a hamper anyway, so it would appear that the luster of final deliverance has long gone and that focus and patience are now far-away concepts because we are virtually lusting after politicians who make promises they cannot possibly keep and worldly riches that cannot possibly last. And yet – knowing this - we are more willing to believe them than to believe the Lord God.

Jesus encourages His followers to “seek” so that we may expect to “find”, so we have no one or nothing to blame if we find ourselves in the dark regarding the Lord’s place and intent in the story of humanity. And James urges us to “be patient … until the coming of the Lord [as] the farmer waits for the precious crop of the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and late rains.” (5:7) In other words, the Lord will determine when the Harvest is ready. And perhaps like the farmer, the Lord will not declare the Harvest until the ENTIRE crop is ready, not just a portion of it.

How do we remain properly focused so that our patience does not wear thin and we lose our focus on the Divine and choose instead our own shiny, gold calves? By busying ourselves with prepping, caring for, and sustaining the crop until its season. We cannot separate the wheat from the weeds lest the good wheat be damaged by our efforts since we cannot always tell the difference (Matthew 13:24-30), so we focus on caring for the crop as a whole. The Lord alone will decide who is the wheat and who are the weeds in His time and by Himself; He asks only that we help to make the crop ready when the time of the Harvest comes. And, my dear friends, Kingdom People are not in the dark about this.

Covenant = promise. We are the people of the New Covenant. That means we live under a perpetual and eternal PROMISE the Lord has made to all of humanity. How can this not be GOOD NEWS?

The Wedding Feast is coming sooner than we might think. Let us be prepared to take our place at the table of the faithful so that we may not find our presence at the table of the Feast questioned.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Life's Priorities

Isaiah 5:1-7
Philippians 3:4b-14
Matthew 21:33-46

One of the tricks to reading from the Hebrew prophets is to put the context in its proper historical setting. That which was written and intended for a particular audience during a particular time is not necessarily applicable to a particular contemporary period and is not always an instance of foretelling. And within this approach to the Hebrew prophets should be at least a tacit understanding that the people of Israel and Judah were probably no different then than we are now, with the obvious exception of technology.

The other stark difference, of course, is that Judah is largely in exile, having been driven from their land by Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar, ostensibly at the direction of the Lord Himself; we are safely nestled in the good ol’ USofA with hardly a threat of exile. And given the reality that it is unlikely we will face exile anytime soon, it is hard for us to take seriously what the Exile meant to the people of Judah and how it affected the relationship between them and the Lord.

Humanity has been at war with itself since Cain and Abel, and the period of the Exile is no exception because even as Babylon as a power overwhelmed Judah, it still faced a threat from Persia and eventually did fall to Persian king Cyrus which ultimately led to the release of Judah. These are kings who were looking to expand their territories or making pre-emptive strikes to protect their interests, and little of it seems to have a direct influence from the Lord although the prophet is quick to point out that the people of Judah and Israel have no one to blame but themselves.

If it can be disputed that the Lord did not directly guide Nebuchadnezzar to overwhelm Judah, it still seems clear according to the prophet that the Lord did nothing to stop him because the “vineyard” that was Jerusalem did not produce the tasty “grapes” the Lord had intended.

Whether we believe that the Lord will guide and direct men with evil intent or whether we believe that “the devil made ‘em do it” is not nearly as important as it is to understand that when we fall, we fall according to our own neglect or our own actions. It is unfair to “blame” the Lord, and it is unreasonable to blame the evil one unless we are willing to admit that the devil has more influence over our lives than he should. It is that cursed and, at the same time, blessed free will that keeps getting in the way whenever we refuse to own up to our part in our own calamity.

While we may not be physically driven from this land, I cannot help but to wonder sometimes what the political landscape will look like once the Congress, the president, and Wall Street get done with this recovery/bail out proposal. Think about this: the people of Judah lost all that was dear to them, but how much of what they lost really mattered? Many right here in the US have lost, or are about to lose, much or all of what is nearest and dearest to them, but how much of what is at risk has real and lasting value? We reason that it is the Wall Street “fat cats” and their greed and/or incompetent government officials that have brought this country to the brink of financial ruin, but that would not be entirely true or fair.

And of course, Americans’ favorite pastimes, besides baseball, are griping about the Congress or the president and spending money we don’t actually have in a vain effort to either “keep up with the Joneses” or exercise our “right” to the so-called “American Dream”. Politicians are easy to blame because just about anyone will agree with us if we gripe! We get no argument; in fact, we probably are more apt to get more ammo to use when we talk to someone else about how this president or this Congress or those Wall Street “fat cats” have ruined our lives and threatened our way of life. And we do all this while still refusing to consider what we might have been able to do for ourselves to avert this potential disaster.

Lest you think otherwise, there is no subtle or implicit political endorsement coming from me. Not here, not now. Because in spite of the political landscape surrounding Judah before, during, and after the Exile, there are still the people being forced to evaluate life’s list of priorities, just as here and now – if we can get past the “blame game”. We may be able to appease ourselves and salve our own consciences by blaming someone else, but we – like the people of Judah – cannot escape our own free will decisions to shoot ourselves in the foot and – as a people – turn our backs on the Lord’s unmerited favor.

Jesus is even more pointed when He points out to His disciples in clear language that the Lord God will not arbitrarily pull from His faithful that which He intended without cause. The Lord will not merely wake up in a foul mood one day; He is, instead, provoked. The principle is no different than what you or I may choose to do with a mutual fund or a financial manager that is not performing up to standard. We would jerk our support and our money and put it where it would do some good according to our priorities.

It is not always easy for us to admit our mistakes. Being the prideful animals we are, we would rather believe ourselves to be clever, smart, and savvy. The reality is often another matter especially if we are so inwardly focused as to dismiss the ideal of the Lord’s glory. And the glory of the Lord is His vineyard. Then it was Israel; now it is our hearts. How will our priorities produce the good, sweet grapes of the Lord’s planting?

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Not So Funny

Watching a recent episode of “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” on Comedy Central and expecting complete irreverence toward the current financial market crisis and those who are involved in “solving” the problem, I was a little taken aback by Jon’s guest, Bill Maher, whose new movie, “Religulous”, is about to hit theaters. From what little I can gather, the movie is akin to Michael Moore’s recent foray into the health care crisis in which a professional entertainer attempts to enlighten us on a particular topic. Michael Moore was attempting to inform and enlighten his audience on the health care industry; Bill Maher delves into religion in general.

I know nothing of either man’s credentials except that they each work as entertainers, but this is not to suggest that neither is capable of learning something on their respective paths of discovery. Religion is substantially trickier than health care, however, because one requires a measure of abstract faith while the other presupposes certain facts.

On “The Daily Show”, they shared a clip from Maher’s movie in which Maher stood on a street in London railing against Scientology, but his discussion on the TV show turned toward his perceived fallacies about Christianity, some of which I found interesting, most of which I found offensive and all of which was not so funny at all even though Maher seemed to be extremely pleased with his feeble attempts at humor. What is funny, however, is his seeming absolute intolerance of those whose faith carries them from day to day as he is of the ilk which demands tolerance.

Even funnier, Maher continually referred to Alaska governor and Republican VP pick Sarah Palin as his Christian lightening rod, suggesting that this Christian who might one day be a heartbeat away from the presidency is somehow unfit for such a job exclusively because of her willingness to live by her own faith while overlooking the public proclamation “his man” Barack Obama made recently, affirming his own faith in “Jesus Christ, who died for my sins”. Why is it that Palin’s Christian faith is a threat to the nation, but Obama’s faith is of no apparent consequence?

One cannot deny that religion in general has been at the core of many a violent conflict throughout history and that Christian “enforcement” has cost many innocents their very lives merely because they did not believe “correctly”. One also cannot deny that such extremism still exists today not only in the guise of Christianity but also of Islam. Religion can indeed be hazardous to one’s health, but faith is another matter altogether.

It is because faith cannot be pinned down or defined in absolute terms that Maher and other pseudo-intellectuals, who poke fun at those who choose to live by faith as “weak” or “gullible”, come across as ridiculous themselves just as Maher did on the TV episode in which he denied, in absolute terms, the tenets and the core of the Christian faith: “It just did not happen”, according to Mr. Maher. That he does not believe it is a given; that he can state in absolute terms that it “did not happen” is not so well established.

At the heart of the episode with Maher, however, was the division which continues to plague this nation. As liberals continue to blame President Bush for the very existence of such a nation divided, those such as Maher continue to feed the certain reality that we have, as a nation and irrespective of partisan preference, lost a willingness to at least respect those with whom we disagree. Just as the Inquisition demanded absolute allegiance to a particular way of thinking and believing, so does the contemporary political and religious environment in which we find ourselves ensnared. And the thumb screws are ever-tightening.

It will not be the financial crisis that will be the end of us as a civilized nation.

A Story of Faith and Mysterious Ways: the "God Thing"

Shortly after my family and I relocated to another town in Arkansas after my new church appointment, my wife began her search for a new job since her previous employer’s satellite offices in the area had no immediate openings. A position was advertised in the area for an activities coordinator at a local assisted living facility, so my wife applied and was interviewed. Long story short, she did not get that job even though she had been convinced it was a “God thing” which led her to this opening.

Shortly after this, she found another opening which suited her very well in that she would still be dealing with and helping people but on a much grander scale. Praise be to the Lord, she landed this job and has not regretted one moment. She’s working hard to learn new things and settle into the position and is having a great time along the way. The potential that is this new career (not just a “job”) is probably far beyond anything either of us could have imagined. I am especially happy for her because of the potential I know to exist within her. Whether her employer will ever know that her presence is a “God thing” or not is irrelevant; she will take the Lord with her to work each day.

The story does not end here, however. Recently the previous position for which she had applied suddenly became available since the one who had been hired for the job did not work out. The hiring authority left a message on our home voice mail inviting my wife to consider the position again if she were still available. Obviously she is not, but she made the courtesy call to thank this person for remembering her.

The very afternoon after I had heard the message on the voice mail about the position, I returned to my office. Working on Sunday’s sermon, I was interrupted by a lady who happens to be a recipient of our church’s food pantry. She had recently lost her job and was hanging onto her faith by a thread. The world seemed to be closing in around her, and she was wondering if there was ever to be another “God thing” in her life again.

I mentioned to her that I happened to know of this new position at the assisted living facility being open again and suggested that she might at least give them a call and apply for the position. Another long story short, the lady left me a message at the church just to thank me for listening to her and sharing some prayer time. She also thanked me for the job lead which turned into her new career! Talk about a “God thing”!

As a pastor of a church and a preacher of the faith, even I am amazed – sometimes even stunned – at the way the Lord works in and through us when we allow Him the latitude to do so. When we get too busy chasing our own tails and reacting out of a sense of desperation, we can too easily miss the “God thing” and fall into the “world thing”. Other times, however, we get hit right between the eyes because the “God thing” is just too big to miss. It is both gratifying and humbling to know that when the time is right, He can direct as needed when He is allowed in.

Sink or swim? Not when there is the “God thing”!

Monday, September 29, 2008

A Question of Authority

Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32
Philippians 2:1-13
Matthew 21:23-32

Is it possible that He is a God who loves so completely that His love for us could actually be considered a weakness, even a fetish (ie, “obsessive devotion”)? Think about the crazy – and often irrational - things we’ve all done when we were, or are, so completely in love. The world is beautiful and scary at the same time. Life, in its chaos, suddenly makes perfect sense yet makes no sense at all. Food tastes better, but we never seem to have an appetite. Music makes sense, and we who held a certain disdain for poetry and Shakespeare in high school would suddenly find ourselves recalling and quoting from certain poems and even Shakespeare. Love may be a many splendor thing, but the mind that is completely engrossed in someone else is a whole other story and somewhat less than splendid.

In Tuesday’s Dem-Gaz editorial, it was written about a confrontation at the Peabody Hotel in Little Rock where editorial writers had gathered for a conference. The Phelps clan from Topeka’s (KS) own Westboro Baptist Church was also at the Peabody doing what they seem to do best: protesting. Exactly what they were there to protest was never clear, but it is presumed and inferred that editorial writers and other media types in general were in danger of eternal condemnation – or have already been condemned - because they do not express the level of hatred and disdain for homosexuals that Westboro folks have and do so often express. And the editorial quoted John 3:16 in the piece but emphasized John 3:17: “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.”

Apparently the Westboro Baptists don’t read John very often – if ever. And it may be telling that Christians in general can easily quote John 3:16 but not much of what follows.

The American Church does not seem to be faring well in our contemporary society. When I was a child growing up in a small town, there was almost nothing happening on Sunday morning except for folks getting ready for church. Oh, there were pockets of those who would choose instead to play golf, go hunting or fishing, or stay home and watch a football game, and stores were closed but for the most part people were in church.

Over the years, there has been a dramatic turn. With the exception of die-hard denominationalists, people seem to have lost faith in the so-called “mainline churches” and have moved toward non-denominational settings or have moved away from the Church altogether. As a result of this apparent shift in priority, every generation or so has seen a shift in emphasis coming from the various churches except for those who have maintained a solid, if somewhat conservative line.

Telling the truth, as it were, should never go out of style, but truth seems to be relative to what is important in our lives. And what is important to us at a particular time is not necessarily as important to our neighbors.

It always seems to boil down to a quest. We are constantly in search of something. Whether it is something new or more of something we don’t seem to have enough of, we are always on a quest. During this time of such drastic and dramatic financial challenges, for instance, people young and old are looking for certainty and security. We all need to know that there is something we can count on, something that will never change and will never shift even as we are constantly changing and shifting. How we or our neighbors choose to embrace a certain reality may change somewhat, but the constant we seek in our lives must remain steadfastly unchanged and as sure and true as the floor we stand on.

So here is a little foundational truth for us all to stand securely on: the God and Father of the New Covenant has not changed and has not changed His mind. About anything. And the bottom line of this constant truth is that He may well be so madly in love with us that He is willing to reach out in whatever way possible to teach us, to show us, to nurture us, to remind us that He is still with us and that He has not given up on us even as we seem to have given up on Him.

According to the tenets of New Testament faith, He has made it somewhat easier – for lack of a better term – to meet Him or to be met by Him through the New Covenant. For some reason, however, and for far too many among us, even this is not good enough. And with this sense of dissatisfaction has come a certain, if profound, complacency and loss of respect.

What do people want? What is it that we seem to respond to more favorably? This is the compelling question that haunts pastors throughout the Church, regardless of denomination. Now I will grant you that there are some pastors who consider increased attendance and new membership as evidence of the fruits of their own individual efforts, and on a certain level it is probably true. People need to know that the pastor cares. And for the life of the church, it is important that the pastor see his role as far more than just a 9-to-5 “job”.

The pastor, however, is not the Church nor is the pastor the final “authority” of the Church although too many do believe that if the pastor is not “right”, then the church cannot be “right” and so they choose to leave. But even these well-intentioned people are on that same perpetual quest, looking for something, anything, that will add or enhance the meaning and purpose of their lives without disturbing their sense of security, failing to see what is right before us – and always has been - waiting to be embraced.

In the confrontation recorded in Matthew21:23-32, Jesus is being challenged in the very same way and in the very same vein in which the Lord God Himself has apparently been challenged according to what is written for us in Ezekiel 18. It seems to be a question of authority and to whom, or to what, we choose to offer and show our respect. Man has created his own system of justice the standards of which are inherently in conflict with the Holy Father. How can this be in a system of justice that presumably has its very roots in a legal system commanded by the Lord God?

What is the difference in two such systems that seem to strive toward the same goal of an ordered society? Notice its profound simplicity: man is loathe to forgive and rarely – if ever – gives second chances. Not really. We talk a good game, but I don’t think we really believe that.

Listen again very carefully to the words of Ezekiel 18:27-29a: “When the wicked turn away from the wickedness they have committed and do what is lawful and right, they shall save their life. Because they considered and turned away from all the transgressions they had committed, they shall surely live; they shall not die. Yet the house of Israel says, ‘The way of the Lord is unfair.’”

So what is unfair in the eyes of Israel? It surely cannot be the “wicked” who call the Lord “unfair”, the “wicked” who have turned from their sorry ways and have finally found peace and fulfillment in their lives by turning to the Lord. I don’t think those who have experienced the Lord’s forgiveness find Him unfair at all. So who is it? Who is doing the asking? Who is issuing a direct challenge to the Lord Himself by such an accusation?

I think it is a safe bet that these allegations against the Lord are not being spoken aloud as much as they are being lived, acted upon, and played out. When someone breaks the law, we expect and demand that they pay the price. Fair enough; the law stipulates penalties. For man, however, it goes much further and deeper than that. We don’t want the transgressors to merely pay; we want them to S*U*F*F*E*R for what they’ve done. This, to man, is true justice and the way things ought to be, and anyone who suggests otherwise is not being “fair” or reasonable, including the Lord Himself.

Yet according to Israel’s objections, the Lord is being unfair because He is allowing even the “wicked” to come to their senses, turn from their evil ways, and live. Why are we not so inclined?

Could it possibly be that the Church is in decline because we cannot seem to make up our minds about the Lord? Or that we have somehow come to the conclusion that the Lord is unfair because He offers salvation to ANY and ALL who come forward so we therefore have a hard time taking Him seriously because transgressors don’t openly suffer and pay to our complete satisfaction?

Yes, it is true enough that we must meet the Lord on His terms and not our own; this is the essence of repentance. But does it have to mean that we who call ourselves faithful can choose to stay away, having somehow justified ourselves to the point that we no longer feel the need for the support and the fellowship of the Church? Or believing in our own piety to the point that we choose not to worship with “sinners” who are not worthy to be in our presence?

It is entirely one thing to find a church with a congregation one can be comfortable with. It is another to be on a constant quest for the “ultimate” church without being willing to bring something, such as one’s life and devotion, to meet the Lord on His terms. It is His authority by which the Church proclaims the Word of Life and not death. Surely we do not, or dare not, demand anything more or offer anything less.

We are specifically denied the authority to judge, but we have been granted and blessed with the authority and privilege to proclaim the Good News of Christ. We must therefore be willing to use this authority to offer to a seemingly hopeless world the same Word of Hope we seek and desire for ourselves for it is in the proclamation of hope and redemption by which we are redeemed.

It is solely His authority to grant; it is our privilege to receive. It is a safe bet, dear friends, that if we need to hear a Good Word of Hope, so does someone else.