Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Thought

“Salvation belongs to the Lord; Your blessing is upon Your people.”  Psalm 3:8

Psalm 3 is one (of several, actually) directly attributed to King David; this one ascribed to the anguish expressed by David as he was forced to flee due to the rebellion led by his son, Absalom.  Imagine, then, the frustration felt by the warrior king who refused to lift his hand against his beloved son even though his son was seeking to kill him and take his divinely appointed throne!

This is not too far from the frustration many feel today when we are surrounded by forces, known and unknown, that seek to do us harm.  We are compelled to defend ourselves by whatever means available to us, and yet we also know there is a point at which we must surrender to the Lord and His mercy; let the Lord take the reins, and let the Lord decide what must be done.  It would seem by how the psalm is written that David found that place in which he was able to let go of his warrior impulses and let the Lord call the shots; when he recognized that in the end and come what may, the hand of the Lord will deliver him one way or the other.

May we be so faithful as to find our strength in His strength!  May we finally reach that point in which we are able to let go and submit to the true will of the Lord.  May the Lord guide and direct our steps – if we will let Him.


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A Thought

“Kiss the Son lest He be angry and you perish in the way.  When His wrath is kindled but a little, blessed are all those who put their trust in Him.”  Psalm 2:12

It is said that in the Hebrew text, the author of this psalm is anonymous.  New Testament sources, however, attribute this psalm to King David himself and believe it to prophesy of the coming Messiah.  It certainly looks this way to Christians but if this is true, then it is speaking far beyond Jesus of Nazareth who “did not come to condemn the world”.

Even if we were to take this psalm apart and argue its finer points, we must not get so caught up in clinical analysis that we overlook the Promise of Hope that is within, the Hope of the Kingdom which will finally and eternally be established!  A place where the reign of the Lord will be unquestioned and unchallenged, where evil will no longer exist.  This is His Kingdom, and only His faithful will dwell.  This is not a threat!  It is the Promise!  BUT – you have to read the entire psalm with an open mind and heart!

Embrace it!  Pray it!  Dwell in it!  Dare to hope for it, but do so in faith and with reverent submission!


Monday, March 26, 2012

Justice in Florida

From the outset, let me state clearly that I am not advocating for or against George Zimmerman.  There is no dispute that he was the shooter in an incident in which an unarmed teenager was killed.  Mr. Zimmerman is not a certified law enforcement officer nor is he (to my limited knowledge) a licensed security person.  He is (or was) a commander of a volunteer neighborhood Watch program, surely similar to other neighborhood Watch programs around the country in which citizens serve as extra eyes and ears for local law enforcement.  They voluntarily patrol their respective areas and report to the police anything suspicious - and then let the police do the rest.  Mr. Zimmerman did exactly this up to a point and was, by all accounts, instructed by the police dispatcher to disengage.  It appears Mr. Zimmerman did not disengage as he was instructed.

What happened next which led to Trayvon Martin being shot and killed is what is in dispute, but Mr. Zimmerman's attorney is insisting that Florida's "Stand your ground" (SYG) law is applicable and that Mr. Zimmerman acted in self-defense.  In essence, this Florida statute does not require one to retreat to safety in face of a perceived threat but allows one to "meet force with force" if attacked.  It may also be a disputed point of whether Mr. Zimmerman suspected young Trayvon Martin of being armed.

I am a firm believer in the Second Amendment, and I do own a weapon.  I do not, however, possess a "Concealed Carry" permit nor do I intend to apply for one.  I've managed to live as long as I have without carrying a weapon, and I do not feel a need to start carrying one now.  This is neither here nor there at this point, however, because Arkansas regulations for concealed carry do not allow the kind of latitude as Florida's SYG.  In Arkansas one is "required" to retreat even when directly threatened but only to the point at which retreat is no longer possible.

I prefer Arkansas' law in this respect to Florida's SYG because of the vague wording in Florida's "meet force with force".  This leaves much to interpretation not only after the fact but, more importantly, during an altercation in which split-second decisions are left to the one who "perceives" a threat.  Citizens must be mindful of the fact that police officers undergo hours and hours of training in order to discern a genuine threat to life or limb; even concealed-carry workshops and seminars do not give citizens this kind of intense, necessary training.

It is bothersome that only public pressure seems to have made a grand jury necessary, and it is more bothersome still that forensic evidence was not collected at the scene as some allege.  That Mr. Zimmerman was allowed by police to walk away from the scene only on his word that he was acting in self-defense (remember there was only one shooter, one weapon!) is a travesty in itself even if he may be eventually exonerated; because the other side of the story lay dead.  Mr. Zimmerman had a broken nose and other minor injuries, but how can we know it was not Mr. Martin who was "acting in self-defense" after having been pursued and accosted by an armed man?

Even still, a grand jury is about to be seated where facts of the case will be disseminated.  The police chief has been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation, and Mr. Zimmerman has retained legal counsel and has necessarily gone into hiding for his own safety.  The wheels of justice are slowing turning.  The outcome at this point is anyone's guess, but now is not the time for the Black Panther Party or any other vigilante group to issue a "bounty" on anyone (by the way, does it bother anyone else that the BPP is seeking to collect $1 million so they may pay out a $10,000 bounty?)!  The very thing they and many others are protesting is the very thing they are themselves demanding: vigilante justice!  People are taking sides while demanding justice and are themselves denying justice by having already made up their minds about the guilt or innocence of George Zimmerman.  Never mind facts; let emotion rule the day!  But remember it is emotion, pure emotion, which brought about the unjustified death of an unarmed young man because an armed man "perceived" (and possibly walked deliberately into) a threat.  Aside from the fact that Zimmerman was the shooter is one other fact that seems not in dispute: Mr. Zimmerman was not equipped to handle the situation.  Armed, yes; equipped, no.

The one thing we can know for sure at this point is that Mr. Zimmerman failed to follow instructions of the police.  We can also clearly see that carrying a weapon is dangerous and brings with it awesome responsibility that many citizens are not capable of bearing.  Whether or not Trayvon Martin was "supposed" to be where he was seems not an issue because I have yet to see the word "trespass" in any news accounts.  By these accounts, Mr. Martin apparently only "appeared" suspicious and only according to Zimmerman's analysis.

This thing stinks from top to bottom, and a young man is needlessly dead.  It does not get much worse than this for most; and for Mr. Martin's parents, this truly is as bad as it gets.  They are the only ones entitled to irrationality because they alone are grieving the loss of their son.  The rest of us can and should be concerned about what happened and the rest of us can demand justice - as we always must - but we must not lose ourselves in emotion.  This pot is about to boil over.  

A Thought

“Blessed is the one who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly nor stands in the path of sinners nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but delights in the Law of the Lord, and in the Law one meditates day and night.”  Psalm 1:1-2

Observing the monks at St. Benedict in Subiaco AR recently, their regular service of “Hours” is praying and chanting the psalms.  I found in this quiet service a sense of solitude and solace not often found in many other worship settings in which the burden of service (and “entertaining” the congregation) is placed on the worship leaders such as the music directors and pastors.  In the service of “Hours”, everyone participates equally though they take turns as to who will read the responsorial as well as a selection from the Gospels or the Epistles.

I think maybe our world, including many of our churches, has gotten a little too busy for our spiritual good.  As much as we can (and should!) pray and praise the Lord with our words and our hymns, we often forget the importance of sitting still and silent so that we may reflect on what has been shared; so that the Lord may then have His own say in response to our prayers and hymns of praise.

Let us learn to slow down and listen more carefully.  It is only in genuine reflection and contemplation that the Voice of the Lord may be heard more fully and completely.  We must never forget that the “one who delights in the Law of the Lord” is the one whose “leaf shall not wither; and whatever one does shall prosper” (Psalm 1:3).


Sunday, March 25, 2012

Endless Quest

Hebrews 5:5-10
John 12:20-33

As disciples of Christ we should be on a quest; searching, seeking, asking – all part of the journey toward sanctification, spiritual perfection.  But what should we be looking for?  Or are we looking at all?  For anything?  If we are looking, do we sometimes wonder where our search may finally lead us?  Or are we afraid of what we might discover? 

But if we are not looking, not searching, not asking questions, then; can we be taken seriously as “disciples” not only by our Lord but by the general, non-believing public at large?  This makes me think of a scene from the movie “Forest Gump” in which ‘Lt. Dan’ asks ‘Forest’, “Have you found Jesus, Forest?”  And ‘Forest’ replies: “I didn’t know I was supposed to be looking for him, sir.”

The search for Truth can come in many forms even as there can only finally be One Truth.  I recently watched the 2008 so-called documentary, “Religulous”, that caused such a stir in its day.  I found myself more amused than offended although I was a little disturbed – not because of the content but because nearly all those Christians the host spoke with – or, I should say, those who made the final, editing cut - seemed virtually clueless as to what they believe – or – why they believe it even though they stated emphatically what they proposed to be true.  

Clearly, however, they had long ago reached a satisfactory point in their spiritual quest and had simply stopped looking; they had stopped asking questions.  Their search was apparently over. When they were pressed for answers from the host about what they believed and why, they could not biblically defend what they claimed as “truth”.  In fact when the host used the Bible against them, they came off looking somewhat foolish while grasping for straws.  I am equally sure, however, that this was most likely the host’s intent.
Make no mistake.  This particular host is, by trade, a comedian (or at least he thinks so).  He is not a journalist, not a historian, and he is certainly no theologian.  Whether he is (or was) on a genuine spiritual quest is not evident because of the nature of his questions, his condescending demeanor, and his rather skilled manipulation of those he was talking to.  Actually the greatest challenge he faced was from a rabbi who would not allow himself to be interrupted, so his answers could not be manipulated.  The Mormons in Salt Lake City would not allow themselves to be so exploited; in fact the host and his camera crew were told to leave the Temple’s property.      

For many life-long Christians, there seems to be a disturbing trend that no longer sees or feels a need to search for answers or to even ask questions – only to argue the answers.  For many – too many, actually - it was all settled at Calvary because the disciples (students) who followed Jesus and asked questions before the Passion became apostles (messengers) at Pentecost with a charge and a mission.  They no longer asked questions but rather became the source of answers, answers new followers would need in order to justify a decision to join the Church; that is, the movement, NOT the institution often “contained”, restricted to a building.

For many, asking questions has become synonymous with “doubt” or maybe even hunger.  If we are filled with the Spirit, we reason there should be no room for doubt; and if we are so spiritually “filled”, there should no longer be any hunger.  Yet in watching the consistently downward trend of the Church since the time when membership was “fashionable” or a social expectation, I would submit to you it is this lack of hunger, this lack of genuine need that is causing the Church to falter from within - not from external forces.  It is perhaps within this lack of hunger that the Church, then, has become so full of itself that it no longer finds within itself a need to be filled, let alone a have compelling need to fill others with anything other than with opinions lacking a biblical foundation.

We should not make the mistake of believing what we do is only for the sake and support of our local church.  What we are charged with has nothing to do with our personal desires for what we have come to think of as “our” church.  No, what we do – or rather what we are called to do – is revealed in Jesus’ words after He had entered into Jerusalem when He revealed that His “hour had come”; when it was time to completely empty Himself literally and figuratively so that He could be filled to face the Hour ahead.

Jesus entered into what would be His most challenging time during His earthly ministry; a time when His very human self would be directly conflicted with His divine nature – and when His divine nature would be “confronted” by His very human impulses.  It is the very same struggle you and I face almost constantly because we are so very human and yet called to something much greater and much more fulfilling – IF WE WILL ONLY ASK!  It is the struggle from within that acknowledges a genuine need for the spiritual fulfillment of our souls – but – clings to personal and physical desire; our instincts, our human impulses – those impulses that can cause confusion between profound desire and genuine need.

We can clearly see what Jesus did according to what He was compelled to do, but what does this indicate to us?  How does what we know about Jesus’ Final Hour help us in our quest?  Is it as simple as what the epistles seem to suggest, that we are only called to “believe” it?  Or is it more about what Jesus challenges us to and “emulate” it?  Not literally, of course, because such a Perfect Sacrifice cannot be duplicated or improved upon!  But if we are called to completely empty ourselves as Jesus did and “follow” Him all the way to the Cross – and beyond – then there is something more required of us - AND - something much more in store for us!   

“Doubt” should not be confused with “disbelief” because there is an element of humility in “doubt” whereas there is a level of arrogance associated with “disbelief”.  An arrogance that claims to have everything figured out … or at least “just enough” to keep one from asking for more, from seeking something more.  Yet it is from within a state of doubt when we will try to settle that which is within us, that which can often keep us off balance and uncertain of our next step.  

All the answers for us as a Church and as individuals who ARE the Church will not be found in Jesus’ Final Hour, but the clues that lead us to the next and the next are.  Even when Jesus Himself asked at Gethsemane to be relieved of what was before Him, it was when He completely emptied Himself, cast aside His human impulses, and approached the Father in “reverent submission”, when He asked, that He found His answer. 

What Jesus found was NOT at Calvary … it was Beyond – as it will be for us if we will continue to search, to seek, to ask … to pray.


Thursday, March 22, 2012

A Thought

“When a person’s ways please the Lord, the Lord makes even that person’s enemies be at peace with him.”  Proverb 16:7

There is an important distinction between Divine Will and that of humans, but it usually falls to the individual to discern that distinction according to what is written in Scripture – and not what we make up for ourselves – IF – we are “people of the Book”.  In that responsibility of discernment, if we are to be honest, doing what is pleasing to ourselves is not always a sign of Divine Will because self-indulgence is inwardly focused only on what pleases us.  It is often busy-ness directed at “storing up treasures” that ultimately rot or rust or that can be taken from us.  When we give of ourselves, however, for the betterment of others, that which is given cannot be taken from us; and the Divine Promise that we will “store up treasure in Heaven” comes to fruition.  Though our “enemies” may scoff at our charitable practices, they can hardly help but to respect the integrity of our acts according to what we believe to be true.

Maybe this is what we are called to look toward.  Our enemies may never “like” us but if we can earn the respect even of those who once tried – and may try again – to harm us, it is not the will of this “enemy” to grant us peace that comes forth but is the Divine Protection that shields us from them.  **IF** we truly trust the Lord.


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

A Thought

“[In all diligence], add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love.  For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.  For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins.”  2 Peter 1:5-9

For Peter it was a matter of what we work intentionally to gather, just as Jesus had taught about what we gather and seek to accumulate; that which will last or that which will rust, rot, or be taken from us.  Faith is a divine gift, entrusted only to those who will not misuse or abuse this gift of grace.  And if we are led to believe faith is given ONLY for the sake of our immortal souls and does not need to be worked and shared, it is not faith: it is “fire insurance”.

There is too much “feel good” religion out there that seeks to convince many that Jesus is little more than a magic spell to be conjured only when we find ourselves challenged.  Then when the Lord does not magically make our problems disappear (as we question the usefulness of suffering), we question what we believe.  Peter seeks to make clear that faith is a journey, a path, a constant series of challenges and choices we must make in order to take that which is entrusted to our care and develop it so that it may be made stronger.  This is the abiding faith that strengthened the apostles when they faced their own deaths at the hands of unbelievers.

Hold fast to what you know to be true, but let us not make the mistake of believing we can set it safely up on a shelf to be taken down only when we need it.  Otherwise like every other book and knick knack on that shelf, it will only get covered with dust; for “whoever has, to him more will be given and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him” (Matthew 13:12).


Monday, March 12, 2012

A Thought

“We are bound to give thanks … because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth, to which He called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Therefore, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.”  2 Thessalonians 2:13-15

Even before the time of Christ Jesus, the Old Testament makes clear the will and intent of the Lord: that all the nations come to know Him as the Almighty through His chosen Israel.  So we move from then to St. Paul’s time and into our own, and the transitions from then to now have (I think) rendered religious faith to have become something St. Paul would not recognize (I’ve often wondered what St. Paul might have to say to the “Church in America”)!  And this, I think, is the timelessness of the Scripture in Paul’s recognition of what can go wrong if we do not “stand fast and hold the traditions” we were taught.  We need only to look around to see what has gone wrong!

In the Church’s quest to be “with it” or “hip” or “popular” or “relevant”, the Gospel itself cannot be recognized; the True Cost of what it took to free us has become a more contemporary, feel-good gospel that asks nothing of us (virtually neutering “love” by removing “sacrifice”!) – in spite of Jesus’ very words!  “Personal” salvation has not translated into strength for Christ’s Holy Church.  Repentance has been relegated to the annals of tradition as something that once had profound meaning, but is now determined to have placed a “condition” on the Lord’s love for us.

There is a hunger in this world that only the Church can satisfy – but only if the Church is functioning as the true Body of Christ; and this requires active participation of ALL BELIEVERS – not just the ones who “feel like it”.  It is a hunger this world can never satisfy because there is nothing of lasting value this world can offer.  The new traditions are attempting to somehow merge this world’s temporal values with the eternal Value of the coming Kingdom.  It has not worked because it cannot work.  Those who are lost need the Church to “stand fast”.  They need a reason to hope, just as you and I do.

Old fashioned?  Yep, I’m good.  So are you – IF – we “stand fast” together in the shared hope of the coming Kingdom!


Sunday, March 04, 2012

Cherry Picking

James 1:19-27
Mark 8:31-38

Among the many disputes Judaism has with Christianity is the unthinkable notion of "human sacrifice" as a means of atonement or for the appeasement of any "god", let alone YHWH.  The Lord's people are clearly prohibited from such practices, yet a certain perspective on Jesus' death insists upon the Lord's requirement of this event rather than mere prediction of a tragedy that WILL happen.  What are we to make of this?  Why is it that our Holy God and Father would make such a demand that contradicts His own Law?  Was there really no other way to reconcile humanity with the Father except through this exceptionally cruel act?  Especially when this cruel act alone emphasizes the total - and universal - rejection of Jesus as Messiah?  And what does it say about US if we believe this one event defines the whole of our faith?  That we cannot be "Christian" unless Jesus suffers and bleeds? 

Scholars and theologians have debated the nature of the Crucifixion for centuries, but these historic and doctrinal debates have stemmed more from discussions on the very nature of Jesus Himself - whether He was divine as "Son of God" or whether He truly was a mere "son of man" but with prophetic status AND royal lineage (i.e., "son of David").  Any number of scripture passages can be - and have been - used to justify a particular perspective, and we are left with the notion that maybe it is not for us to figure out.  Maybe it "just is".  Maybe we should be fine with it "as is" and just leave well enough alone. 

Maybe.  I just don't think so.  I do not think a responsible disciple can simply acknowledge the death of Jesus, say "thanks for the blood", and then go about his or her own personal business as if nothing happened - or as if what happened is only "incidental" to real life.  And I think this is the entire disciplinary focus of Lent and is perhaps also part of the reason why so many Christians today just do not engage Lent like they once did. 

More is the pity, too, because to dismiss Lent as "unnecessary" is to disengage from the WHOLE life of Christ and its WHOLE purpose; not unlike resting in a small portion of a scripture passage without appreciating the totality of the context in which the passage is used.  This truly does define "cafeteria Christianity" in which we pick and choose "statements" we like - and toss the rest, including the appropriate and defining context, aside; that context which gives these passages their true and fullest meaning.

When James calls upon the faithful to go beyond only "hearing" the Word and actively respond to the Word by "doing" it, he uses a curious analogy of a mirror that actually speaks directly to what it means to "hear" only that which we want to hear - but - ignore that which we just don't feel like doing or would rather not face... and feel perfectly justified in so doing.  We see what we see in the mirror and can be just fine with what we see, but we look no closer.  We don't "consider" anything other than what we see; we just see "what is" but fail to realize that the mirror image is one-dimensional; a very small portion of the WHOLE.  The mirror image does not reveal the not-so-attractive inward parts; those we can keep safely hidden and refuse to deal with them - or fail to deal with them ... to our spiritual detriment. 

It is not enough to only look, of course, because there is much more to us than a physical image, must more that will endure as the physical begins to deteriorate.  Jesus had an image before He was utterly rejected not only by the religious authorities of the day but also by the very crowds that had only days before proclaimed "Hosanna to the Son of David!"  And it was easy for them to do so because up to that point, it seems Jesus had asked much more than He had offered - except to the formerly blind, of course, or the formerly possessed or the formerly leprous or the formerly hungry or the formerly lame.  These many obviously saw much more than the physical image of a Gentle Man - and so did the many who witnessed these Divine Acts.  But how quickly we are inclined to forget.  OR how quickly we realize "they" got something, but where is "mine"? 

As Jesus' time approached, however, Mark states "He began to teach" His disciples of His coming rejection before finally being killed - after which time He will be raised up.  This is just one of many passages that makes me wish I could read the ancient languages because the word "teach" is used rather than "tell".  The context suggests this conversation was much more than just Jesus mentioning something in passing.  To "teach" indicates there was much more being said; it would suggest Jesus not only "told" them of the things which were to take place but also perhaps "explained" to them why these things were going to happen. 

Clearly Peter missed something.  Even assuming a detailed explanation from Jesus, Peter was not prepared - or willing - to accept the totality of this strange "teaching".  Recall that prior to this passage, Peter had declared Jesus to be "the Christ, the Son of the Living God" (Mk 8:29), the "Messiah", the "anointed One" - just like King David.  It would have made no sense to Peter that such a One as this could or would be so "man-handled", let alone "killed"!  Yet we also hear clearly Jesus' Divine rebuke of Peter's good - and very human - intentions.  But as the saying goes, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions."

That Peter was more mindful of "human things" than of "divine things" makes me wonder if Peter simply stopped listening after Jesus mentioned He would be "killed", thus missing the part about Jesus being raised after three days.  We cannot blame Peter, of course, because we are geared the same way.  We hear what we want to hear, but we stop listening when the conversation becomes too challenging or does not give us what we want.  The ironic thing was that Peter heard the "bad news" but completely overlooked or ignored the "good" that would come from such a tragedy. 

It is the same way in which the "old school" United Societies of the early Methodist movement would hold one another accountable by telling a member of the class something they did not want to hear but perhaps needed to hear.  We don't "do" accountability anymore except from the pulpit because the preacher can paint with a very broad brush without getting too close.  It is much safer that way; yet less personal, less relational - and therefore much less risky. 

The Journey of Faith, however, is entirely RISKY but made much less so in the fellowship of the Church filled with disciples willing to share our risk.  The world we live in is hostile to this Journey to which we are called because this Journey makes no sense to a world condemned to darkness, a world judged and condemned with "eyes that cannot see" and "ears that cannot hear".  And the world rejects this Journey for this very reason: The Cross; the "foolishness of the Cross".  Either there is too much inappropriate emphasis on The Cross (as demanding Jesus' blood but refusing to respond), or there is not enough appropriate emphasis on The Cross (acknowledging the reality and necessity of sacrifice on the Lord's part - and ours); thus defining "true love".

Here is the reality of our Journey.  The Cross cannot be simply dismissed as having already been done because Jesus clearly requires as much from those who will "take up the cross and follow" Him, as He told His disciples just before He went into Jerusalem: "You will indeed drink My cup and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with ..." (Matthew 20:23; Mark 10:39)), referring to those apostles who will carry on His ministry after He has departed this earth - and who will ultimately lose their lives for the sake of that Church, the very Church you and I are charged with and equipped for supporting today.  In WHOLE - not in "cherry picking" only the parts we like.

We may not be apostles, but we are no less disciples of Christ.  We do not have to understand the mystery of the Divine Nature of the Cross, but we must face its reality in our lives, in our own journey as the "Body of Christ" the Church.  We cannot avoid or ignore our own crosses (Mark 8:34) and still expect or demand the blessings.  This is the Journey of discipleship.  It is A "choice", but it is "THE Way" to the Father.  It is Christ our Lord, the Eternal Covenant.  Amen.