Thursday, January 31, 2013

Boy Scouts and parents: think about this

Let me begin by saying I do not believe all homosexuals are child molesters or that all child molesters are homosexual.  I believe these are two separate issues, and one has little if anything to do with the other.  Having said this, however, opening the Boy Scouts of America to homosexuals has the potential to create problems that I suspect are not being openly considered or discussed for fear of "offending" this group or that crowd.  Yet I find it strangely ironic that while the BSA is considering allowing homosexuals, they are apparently still not open to allow atheists.  The irony is in the idea of "being influenced" vs. "being an influence" for some "greater good" and all that.  The Boy Scout mantra is "duty to God", so what is the defined "duty" if not to serve and glorify God especially to atheists? 

To my knowledge there are no male Girl Scout leaders.  To my knowledge there are no parents (in their rights minds!) who would allow their Girl Scout daughters to go on camping or other overnight trips with adult males for obvious reasons; the safety and well-being of their daughters.  I don't care how "open minded" progressive parents believe themselves to be; I seriously doubt they are willing to subject their own children to such risk.  So if being homosexual is as natural to these as being heterosexual is to those, why would a parent allow a child to go on an overnight camping trip with a homosexual Boy Scout leader if they would not allow their daughter to go on an overnight trip with a heterosexual male? 

I reiterate that I do not believe all homosexuals are child molesters anymore than I believe all adult heterosexual males cannot control their impulses with underage girls.  Yet for the sake of decorum and child safety and common sense, responsible parents do not (or should not) allow their daughters to be with adult male authority figures unsupervised.  Could this not potentially create a problem for the Boy Scouts who do an awful lot of overnight camping?  If the attraction is as natural, it is reasonable to presume the temptations will be just as compelling.

The Boy Scouts may be about to sign their own death warrant; only time will tell once a decision has been finally made.  And if just one irresponsible adult male who happens to be homosexual succumbs to temptation and crosses that line separating appropriate from inappropriate behavior (or is even accused), the coffin will be nailed shut; and the BSA will have no one to blame but themselves all in the name of "tolerance".  

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A Thought

“In You, O Lord, I put my trust; let me never be put to shame.  Deliver me in Your righteousness, and cause me to escape; incline Your ear to me, and save me.”  Psalm 71:1-2

Sometimes it doesn’t matter what we do or what we say; someone is going to find fault and do everything possible to convince themselves – and others – that they have been victimized by our hands, even as we try to be as encouraging and as inoffensive as possible.  “Speaking the truth in love” is never more challenging than when we attempt, with all good intentions, to hold fellow disciples accountable to the faith and to the Church.  Ultimately, regardless of noble intentions, they turn on us.  And because we choose not to fight back, keeping our tongues and our tempers in check, we are made to feel helpless against the tide swelling against us.

We must never forget, especially during times like these, that Jesus endured these very same things; and because He is who He is, He knew His physical life was in danger and would come to an ugly end for “speaking the truth in love”.  Yet He persevered because He knew it was not a matter of His personal will, but the will of the Holy Father.

Let us persevere against the tide which is swelling against the Church.  Let us remember – and remind one another in mutual accountability – that it is the fellowship which is the strength of the Holy Church, when we are together in praise and worship and Scripture study and attending to the Sacraments of the Church and not scattered to the winds seeking our own way, our own truth.  For it is as “the Teacher” wrote in Ecclesiastes: “Two are better than one … for if they fall, one will lift up his companion.  But woe to the one who is alone when he falls, for he has no one to help him up” (4:9,10).


Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A Thought

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

You’ve probably heard by now that the Arkansas Senate has passed a bill allowing for concealed weapons to be carried in churches (it is currently prohibited), subject to approval by the church’s governing boards.  It now goes to the Arkansas House where it has failed before, but Governor Beebe says that he will sign the bill into law if it reaches his desk.

There is a political argument for and against this measure becoming a reality, but there is only one spiritual argument that can hold sway to the faithful.  If a church reaches a point that it believes armed security is required, in my humble opinion that “church” as the Body of Christ has ceased to exist.  If the faithful attend worship with fear not of the Lord but of a stranger entering the sanctuary with evil intent, only the Holy Spirit can salve that person’s soul.  Remember St. Peter’s intent to “save” Jesus?

There are many forces at work in our culture trying to make us afraid of first one thing and then another.  Dear friends, this is no way to live!  And if we spend too much of our conscious awareness being afraid of anything on this earth or in this world, then we cannot say we truly TRUST our Lord.  Where is the “relationship” in that?  If we have “friends” whom we do not trust, can we really call them “friends”?  Or are they merely “acquaintances”?  Someone we are vaguely familiar with?

I will leave it to you to decide whether you should contact your own state representatives but if you are fearful, I strongly encourage you to get on your knees and contact our Lord!  He is the only One who can give us comfort, and He is the only one who can satisfy our souls.  He is the only One who can keep us truly “safe”.

Trust Him, and Him alone for your safety and well-being.  Only then can we truly “live”.


Monday, January 28, 2013

A Thought

“By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments.  And His commandments are not burdensome.  For whatever is born of God overcomes the world.  And this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith.”  1 John 5:2-5

“Commandment” has come to carry such a negative connotation because Christians typically associate “commandment” only with the so-called “Ten Commandments” and the “thou shalt not’s”; don’t do this, don’t do that.  And it may be more difficult still for Americans who confuse our God-given “liberty” with “license” to do as we please when we please without a better appreciation for all that the commandments involve; that is, understanding how people of faith live with and among one another just as St. Paul writes to the Corinthians: “When you sin against a brother or sister and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ” (1 Corinthians 8:12).

The commandments do not prevent us from doing the things we like; rather, the commandments free us to do the things we should for the sake of one another in and for our communities, particularly the Church community.  Living by faith, then, is living in “the victory that has overcome the world”, not in defeat by and submission to an overbearing God.  The Word of God, particularly the Word Made Flesh, is the Lord’s greatest Gift to us; Old Testament and New Testament alike revealed in Christ.

So let us live as a people blessed with Gifts from Above; freed to do right by one another and live well for one another.  This is the Church.  This is us!


Sunday, January 27, 2013

Nehemiah 8:1-10
Luke 4:14-21

I got my new license last year and, yes, I actually paid money for a really bad photo!  The photo was not quite as bad as others in the past, but it was still a typical "driver license photo".  As I was looking at that photo and wondering if there is any merit to "practicing" a smile in the mirror, I remembered something told to me a long time ago when I was upset about another picture which had been taken of me: "You can't lie to a camera.  That's really what you look like."  As if I didn't feel badly enough. 

Then I remembered something I read several years ago (the author's name escapes me) in which the self-styled philosopher said: "If you don't like your driver license photo, you are either too vain for your own good - OR - you don't like what others see"; meaning we may be looking at our own photos through undistorted lenses.  We may be seeing something about ourselves we've spent a lot of time and energy trying to hide.  Yet we cannot deny that what we are seeing is really what there is to see!

The season of the Epiphany through which Messiah continues to be revealed, we are confronted with a rather bold proclamation that compels us to see something other than this "driver license photo".  The "home town" Jesus everyone seemed to know growing up, the carpenter's son, maybe the mischievous boy (according to extrabiblical sources) was taking upon Himself the responsibility of fulfilling Isaiah's vision.  You and I have no problem with what is written in Luke's gospel because we have 20/20 hindsight and already know how the story turns out, but the people to whom Jesus is speaking are really up in arms about this very bold, perhaps even arrogant claim.  And we should wonder why.

Though these were obviously not the same "persons", this was essentially the same "people" to whom Ezra read the book of the Law of Moses.  The context and setting are substantially different, but the people cannot be much different even though the people of Ezra's day were returning home from Babylon and rebuilding after the Exile.  They had just been put through the wringer and were thankful to be home, thankful that the Lord had been true to His Word and had not forgotten them in their Exile.  They were being blessed, then, not only with the Word of the Lord - and responding appropriately! - they were also blessed with the fruit, the real evidence of the Holy Covenant! 

They were home in the Promised Land again after having misappropriated, misused, and abused the blessings they had enjoyed before being run out of their homes and their homeland by conquering armies.  They were perhaps hearing the Word they had not heard since being driven from their homeland, that Word they had long ago learned to take for granted to the point that this very same, very eternal Word of the Lord had become empty and meaningless for them.  And they celebrated!

Isaiah's prophecy is also a cause for celebration, but for some reason the people of Nazareth (under Roman rule, exiled in their own country!) responded not only with doubt but with downright hostility and outright rejection - not because of the prophecy itself but because of Jesus' claim of ownership of the prophecy.  But I wonder what it was about this moment that caused the people to react so violently.  Why were Ezra and the Law embraced "with tears" and with "amens" while Jesus and the promise of fulfillment of the prophesy were rejected with anger and hostility?  Was it really only because Jesus was "home grown"?

The answer could be as simple as whatever may be going through your mind at this very moment while you are listening to (or reading) this message - if you are listening at all.  Did you come to worship prepared to "receive" a message, whether through Word or song?  Did you come prepared to find fault?  OR - are you sitting still only long enough to "endure" yet another sermon?  Did you come prepared and expecting and willing to be transformed through the whole of the worship experience which means your life will not be the same from that moment of transformation?  OR - are you quite comfortable where you are and prefer to be left alone; in your life, in your habits, in your practices and personal doctrines, in your place, in your chosen ministry (or your choice of no ministry at all)? 

Because it occurs to me that even as I have heard from so many here and in other churches I've served that I have "stepped on toes" or "skinned a few", nothing much seems to change.  Because we like things just as they are?  Because we're comfortable?  Because we can come and go as we please when it pleases us?  Because we see no need for transformation?  Oh, we can see "others" who need to be transformed, but ourselves?  Not so much.  We believe.  We're good.

It is like the driver license photo.  We may not like what we see on the surface, but we learn to accept it rather than deal directly with the deficiencies.  "It is what it is", as some like to say.  There were years I hardly noticed how much weight I was putting on until something in me finally clicked.  I had simply resigned myself to the reality reflected in those awful photos.  I was pretty sure I was stuck with that present "truth" and that what I really needed was not "change" or "transformation" but rather a "New Age" philosophy that would fit me right where I am and ask nothing of me. 

Oh, I "wished" plenty, but what was it that was lacking in my acceptance that things needed to change?  A lack of willingness to confront what was - and a lack of will to change.  I had the desire, of course; I wanted the necessary changes to take place, but I did not want to be "put out".  I wanted to be "magically transformed" but without any effort or commitment or discomfort or inconvenience on my part.  In other words, I wanted my "world" to change around me while I remained steadfastly unchanged.

The people of Jesus' time were living under Roman rule; exiled in their own homeland, and they didn't even know it.  These were presumably "faithful" Jews who considered anyone and anything outside of their parameters as "unclean".  Clearly, however, they were still allowed to gather in synagogues and worship their God.  Clearly their Scriptures had not been taken from them, but equally clearly they had learned to accept "what is".  In return for their acquiescence to the Gentile Romans, they were "allowed" their places of worship; they were "allowed" their traditions.  So within this framework, what was so "radical" about Jesus that they were unwilling to even listen, let alone accept this "new thing" from the "old boy"? 

What is so radical, so offensive about Jesus "mission statement" claiming to have been "anointed to bring good news"?  Not to "rule"; only to "proclaim" something wonderful, something promised long ago?  Could it be they thought He was calling them "blind"?

This "Mission Statement" is not so radical, so offensive.  It is that the "driver license photo" image we have of ourselves is not real.  It is that we do not wish to be held accountable for our place in the Body of Christ.  We have "justified" ourselves right where we are.  We have convinced ourselves that "transformation", real "transformation", is just a Bible story.  More than this, we don't like being told that we can - and must - do better because that is like being told we're WRONG!  Few of us will sit still for that.

The State, the "empire", gives us one shot, and one shot only, to project an image.  Once that image is captured, it becomes a matter of STATE record.  According to the State, THAT is who we are, like it or lump it.  THAT is who we are "allowed" to be.  And THAT is where the people of Nazareth were.  THAT is where the people of Nazareth believed Jesus should have been - WITH them in their acquiescence to the Roman Empire; just suck it up and learn to live with it.

When we are willing to admit and confess our Lord is truly our "Shepherd" and our "Teacher" and our "Master" and not our "facilitator" who seeks to make us comfortable right where we are, only then can real transformation take place.  When we are truly prepared to submit ourselves to His sovereignty, His authority, His Way, His Truth, and His Life - and not our own; then we will find our lives and the Life of the Church will never be the same.  Then, and ONLY then, will we be truly able to say, "Free at last" from the ugly reality that is the "driver license photo", the STATE'S image, and regain - and RECLAIM - that Perfect Image in which we were created.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

A Thought

“Jesus said to Simon, ‘Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.’”  Luke 5:4

Simon and others had already been out fishing and had caught nothing.  Yet perhaps to prove Jesus wrong, they answered Jesus’ challenge to do it again.  Much to their surprise, they were hauling in so many fish, the “net was breaking” (vs. 6)!  How does this speak to us as Christians, as members of the Body of Christ?

First, we must remember that fishing was Simon’s livelihood.  The well-being of his family depended on his success.  Second, and incidentally, it is something he finds purpose in.  Finally, it is enough for him to believe in to keep doing it.  The local economy depends on the haul of the fishermen.  When they are successful, everything else begins to fall into place.

So it is also with the Church.  The livelihood of the Church depends on the “catch”.  The members of the Church must recognize the purpose for which it exists because even our local economy depends on the Church’s well-being and sense of purpose – the communities we serve need to know we believe in what we do, whether they will admit it or not!  And everything depends on the Church’s obedience to the challenge of the Master!  Depending on our own means, our own ideas, our own toil and effort apart from the Lord means we will come up empty more often than not.  The well-being of the Church depends on the Church’s willingness to trust our Lord to guide us and advise us because it is not our “nets” people get caught up in; it is Christ.

Let us be aware of what our Lord calls us to, and let us learn again to listen to Him.  We have collectively tried every “good idea” under the sun to build the Church up after a 40-year downward spiral; maybe it is time to give our Lord another crack at it.


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A Thought

“Be angry, and do not sin.  Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still.  Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and put your trust in the Lord.”  Psalm 4:4,5

It is ok to be angry.  Frankly there is plenty around us to be angry about.  It is important, however, that we recognize anger as the irrational emotional state it often is.  Rarely can we act upon this anger and expect any good to come from our actions.  More often than not, when we act (or react) purely from an emotional state, not only will no good come from our actions but it is likely that what was bad will be made worse!

Like every other raw emotion, however, we are challenged to work through that emotion before we act.  To “be still” is to “be silent” so that our “meditation” can do us some good.  In the stillness of our meditation we move from an irrational state of feeling to a more rational state of being, and this is important for the people of the Lord not only in how we witness to the goodness of our Lord and our hope and trust in Him but so that we may act (if any act is, in fact, necessary) with a right sense of purpose.

Being a Christian is much more than believing Messiah came, and it is more than a way of life.  Being a disciple of Christ Jesus is a state of being; it is the mark and measure of who we are created to be.  We are a people given a purpose, charged with a purpose, and blessed with purpose – all belonging to our Lord.  In the process of sanctification (“going on to perfection”), it is safe to say we all have a very long way to go spiritually before we can depend on instincts, what may feel right in a high emotional state.

The Bible encourages us to “pray without ceasing”.  Clearly this is not strictly a New Testament ideal.  It is for the people of the Lord, and it is for a good, long, and prosperous life in faith.


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A Thought

Printed words are concepts.  One must endure the experiences.”  - St. Augustine

“You must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction to righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” 2 Timothy 3:14-17

St. Augustine also said that if we accept only what we like and reject what we don’t like (all from the Scriptures), we do not believe in God; we believe only in ourselves.  It seems we may be comfortable with the concepts we can grasp, but we are often complacent (if not downright hostile) toward those things we find difficult for our own lives, our own circumstances, and then slink away in “grace”, convincing ourselves that “God understands my situation”. 

Indeed the Lord “understands” the human situation so much so that He came to us to become like us so that we would ultimately strive to become like Him.  Jesus did not come to help us get settled where we are; He came to lead us OUT OF where we are and into something much greater!  But if we remain uninspired and thus unmoved, it is as though Jesus never came at all.  Thus it is that we cannot resign ourselves only to “reading” the Bible or only “going to church” or only “taking Communion” or making fellowship only with those we personally like; we must resolve ourselves to “endure the experiences” of Christ Himself, all His experiences … that is, IF He is “the Way”.  That is, if ALL Scripture is really divinely inspired for purposes much greater than for just something to read so we can make a mark on our “to-do list”.

The only reason we are “uninspired” to strive for greater heights is our own lack of effort and our unwillingness to “endure the experiences”.  But if we dare to reach higher, ah, the heights He will take us to!  So reach!  Strive!  Endure!  Hope!  Never settle, and never get settled; for it is not over until the Trumpet Sounds!


Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Feast of Family

John 2:1-11

Marriage is a big deal.  The sacramental union of a man and a woman together in our Lord's Holy Covenant is worthy of our prayers, worthy of serious contemplation before entering into such union, and worthy of the full weight of the Church's support not only when things go wrong but to also assure that things stay right!  When that union is threatened in any way, the Church must be prepared and willing to engage in spiritual battle because there is much more at stake that many of us realize.  So it is significant in the Season of Epiphany that this succession of events, from Jesus' baptism to Jesus' presence at a wedding, reveals to us much more than Jesus' ability to change water into wine as only a "sign to be believed".

We are also being shown much more than Jesus affirming the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman; the sanctity of that reality is already affirmed in Genesis 2:24: "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh".  In fact, it could be said that Jesus' presence at the wedding is incidental because when He was "invited", there is no indication that His role as Messiah was even considered.  Yet we are being shown by His presence the covenantal relationship between the Lord and His Church; between the Bridegroom who is Messiah and the Bride which is the Church.  But we are not being shown this merely by Jesus being present.  There is much more. 

Perhaps it is that the significance of running out of wine is not so much indicative of more guests showing up than were anticipated but rather that there is only so much we can do within our limited human capacity to anticipate and endure the reality of life's certain challenges, especially for a married couple.  We must remember that in Jesus' day, they could not run to the corner liquor store or the county line to get more wine!  It had to be prepared beforehand.  So perhaps it is that we begin to "run on empty" (that is, 'fall out of love' or 'it wasn't meant to be') without fully realizing the preparation work necessary before the wedding should even take place (I do not mean planning the wedding!), not to mention the incredible work that must be done to protect and preserve that union because it is a UNION OF TESTIMONY.  But we must also realize, within the sacramental context, that apart from our Lord, we can never really be prepared for all that lay ahead.

The Roman Catholic Church has for centuries maintained the integrity of matrimony as a bona fide Sacrament of the Church, and it is a shame the reformers did not take more seriously the full weight of what truly constitutes "sacramental" before they dismissed all but two (baptism and the Lord's Supper).  It is a shame and a profound loss because when the sacramental nature of marriage is diminished to a mere "ordinance" or when the "sacramental nature" is removed altogether, we are left with little more than a legal, perhaps social contract that can endure only for so long as each party is willing; which is to say, only for so long as the "good wine" lasts.

Calling marriage a "sacrament", however, is no magic formula for success without understanding what "sacramental" really means.  When we understand Sacrament as "the Lord's giving of Himself to us", we can see this more clearly in baptism when we are given new life and we can appreciate its depth in the nourishment of the Lord's Supper when we are renewed in repentance.  Where the Lord "gives of Himself" in marriage, however, is a little more elusive, a little harder to pin down because in the beginning of just about any marriage, it's all about mutual attraction, infatuation, idealism, and romanticism.  We often hear that "I want to spend the rest of my life with him/her", but we rarely (if ever) hear, "I want to glorify our Lord's Covenant with humanity through my union with my beloved".  And we don't hear this because it is likely the very LAST thing on a couple's mind. 

Which may beg the question: Did the Lord give us marriage, or did He enter into marriage in order to make it mean something, to give it depth; that is, the depth of a Covenant as a UNION OF TESTIMONY rather than as a mere partnership of convenience?  The Season of the Epiphany has a natural progression to this end in that while we are told of Jesus' special role as Messiah by the presence of the Gentile "wise men" who were led from afar and by His baptism when the "Spirit descended as a dove", we are now introduced to the fulfillment of that special role in the nature of the Covenant between the Holy God and the unholy human race for the sole purpose of sanctifying us to Himself.

So just as it is that baptism by water is an "outward sign of an inward grace", society is shown the "outward sign" of the Covenant by the sacrament of marriage made sacramental not by a priest but by the intentional commitment each partner has to the other "for better AND for worse, in wealth AND in poverty, in sickness AND in health"; that is, "sacrificially", "sacramentally".  The covenant commitment we make to our spouses in giving ourselves completely to them is one and the same sacrament attested to in our Lord giving Himself to us in the new birth (justifying grace) and in continuing to grow in love and mutual support and nurture of one another in the faith (sanctifying grace); "going on to perfection" but recognizing that perfection that can never be achieved by man alone.

Make no mistake.  A sound and fruitful marriage is no accident, and it does not "just happen" as a matter of fate (fond as that unbiblical notion may be).  And while it is true that it "takes two to tango", it is equally true that a marriage can rise to new heights by the genuine commitment, perseverance, and self-sacrifice of only one just as a marriage can be utterly destroyed by the irresponsible, selfish, and often devious and diabolical acts of only one.  The challenge of the sacramental marriage is of the very same nature as that of the sacramental commitment to the Divine Covenant, the fulfillment of which is portrayed by the "new wine", the "good wine" at Cana - made possible only by the hand of our Lord.

There is therefore much more to this commitment than just being happy with one another, much more than mutual compatibility.  The nature of "sacrament" is attested to in our understanding of discipleship and the important role marriage and family life play in this understanding.  Author Josh Hunt writes in his book, "Disciple-making teachers", that there is no greater public testimony to the unity of Messiah to YHWH and the Church to Messiah than by Jesus' statement and prayer in John 17:23 when He prays, "May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent Me ..."  The writer states, "Do you understand the significance of Jesus' words?  It is almost as though Jesus is turning to the world and saying, 'If My people don't love each other, you have My permission to believe I did not come".  Wow.

The writer is not talking about the absence of divorce because, clearly, that ship has long sailed.  Rather he is talking about the presence of passion and purpose within the marriage covenant, the very same passion you and I need to have toward the Lord - the very same passion our Lord has for us ... as attested to at Calvary!  The Lord could have simply "willed" that all are saved, but He didn't do any "magic trick" nor did He simply take for granted that one day everyone would know of His Love.  He found it necessary to SHOW His love with intention.  He found it necessary to PROVE His love with purpose.  With complete disregard for Himself.  This relationship in our Lord's heart does not merely "exist", nor should our marriages simply "exist"; because what merely "exists" is, more often than not, taken for granted and neglected to its detriment and eventual annihilation. 

You want to know why people don't take the Church seriously anymore? It is because we do not take marriage or our spouses seriously anymore.  We use these, more often than not, as means convenient to our own selfish ends.  So when we do not take our spouses and our marriages seriously but simply let them "exist" as long as we are personally satisfied (so long as the wine holds out), we testify to the world that we do not take our Lord and our relationship with Him seriously.  We give them "permission", as the writer stated earlier, "to believe Jesus never came".  We give them permission to believe such Love does not exist. 

Jesus elevated the status and role of marriage by the "new wine", the "sign" of His remarkable presence in what was once an ordinary social event.  He portrayed YHWH's passion for us in the "new, superior wine", making the ordinary extraordinary ... not merely for the wedded bliss of the happy couple but for the WORLD TO SEE where He is in our lives!  It is a Perpetual Feast worth celebrating not only on the wedding day but each and every day to testify to the Goodness of our Lord and His commitment to US

It is discipleship at its finest.  It is relationship at its fullest potential.  It is Life in the Eternal Covenant.  It is, at its very best, "Emmanuel"; God with us.  Amen.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

A Thought

“Consider [Jesus] who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.”  Hebrews 12:3

Everyone has a bad day from time to time, and it is sometimes especially so for those who work diligently in the faith to serve as witnesses to what is good and right and holy.  Yet there are always those moments and those persons who will not only resist what is offered but will sometimes become hostile as if they are somehow being threatened.  And maybe they are, at least in their own minds and within their own personal realms, threatened to the extent that they discover that our Lord does not seek to make us comfortable with or justify us in our sins.  Rather our Lord calls us out of and away from a life of and bondage to sin so that we may be justified before our Holy God to a much better life with a much greater promise than merely the next moment.

We must try to remember that the Son of God was rejected, even to the point of death, because the religious leaders of His day did feel genuinely threatened; not because they were offended in their own sense of righteous and pure religion (though it was their excuse) but because they attempted to use their own sense of religion to justify their own lofty social status.  They did not want to serve; they only wanted to be served.  They did not want to repent and follow; they wanted to be followed. 

This is not so for disciples of the Risen Christ!  We are called to serve just as our Lord sought to serve.  So let us seek to serve (without being self-serving!) with due diligence and with the faith and confidence that we are in Good Company!


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A Thought

“He who dwells in the secret place of the Most Hight shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress; my God, in Him I will trust.’”  Psalm 91:1-2

Do you remember the game of “chase” we played when we were children?  That simple, physically demanding, and exciting game which allowed us a “base” where we could stand and be safe from the one who was “it”?  The purpose of the game was to run from one “base” to another (usually each end of the yard or playground) without getting caught by the one who was “it” because if we got caught, we would be stuck in the madness and the chaos of that open field and unable to return to the safety of the “base” until we were able to catch someone else.

Life is a lot like this.  The sad part is that so many have distanced themselves from the Lord and His Church to the extent that they cannot find the safety and sanctuary of “base”.  For these there is no “refuge”, no “fortress”; only the madness of others running desperately from “base” to “base” without finding any real safety, no real rest.  There is only the chaos.

Let us return to our “base” at least long enough to catch our breath; it is the promise of our Lord who promises “true rest”.  Like a parent with a child, the faithful are of no real use to a world gone mad if we do not connect to our “base” often and take the necessary rest.  It is the foundational theology of the Sabbath, that remarkable Gift from Above which enables us to reconnect to our Lord and to one another in the fellowship of the Church, the Body of Christ.  It is the necessary place of “refuge” in which we can never be “caught” because we are safe, yet it is also the place from which we are sufficiently rested, strengthened, and enabled to endure the game as we must.

We cannot stay on “base” without disengaging from the game itself just as we cannot disengage from life itself, but we cannot function to our full capacity without the knowledge that “base” is always there and that real rest is to be found “under the shadow of the Almighty”.

Touch “base” regularly.  We are no good to our spouses, our children, our employers, or society in general without it.


P.S. – take your children’s TV, Ipods, Ipads, electronic games, computers, and cell phones away from them and teach them the game of “chase”!  

Monday, January 14, 2013

All Wet

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

The saying, 'you're all wet', has an uncertain origin but has come to mean "mistaken" or "wrong" such as, "If you think you will hit the lottery by buying more tickets, you're 'all wet'".  We might believe buying more tickets increases our odds of winning which would be statistically correct, but it still ignores the fact that nothing we do will affect how the numbers roll out, whether it's buying more tickets or rubbing a lucky rabbit's foot.

By the same token, if we think getting baptized makes us Christians, well, this also makes us - literally and figuratively - 'all wet'.  This is not to say baptism does not matter (it does) or will make no difference in our spiritual life (it will), but baptism as a practice and as a doctrine of the Church does speak to general beliefs about baptism, sacraments, discipleship, and church membership; in other words, what it truly means to be connected to and follow our Lord.

If baptism does not matter one way or the other, Jesus surely would not have bothered because I think we can see that when it came to religious practices, Jesus made no time for what He considered to be nonsense.  If anything, He would have stopped on the bank of the river and hollered out, "SNAKE!"  Some of you water-hole-swimmin' country boys know perfectly well this warning will not only clear a water hole but has also been known to cause some to walk on water!

But why does baptism matter?  Is the act in and of itself the "end"?  Or is the act a "means" to an end, much like any other practice we observe in the Church, those "means of grace" by which we encounter the Holy (sacramental)?  And if a "means", to what "end"?  Heaven?  That's too obscure, too abstract though worthy of our attention and awe!  For many, however, such obscurity can actually blind us to a greater reality so much so that we lose sight of baptism's meaning for us and for the Church.  And I think we may be, to a large degree, at that point of spiritual blindness, especially when we come to believe it necessary to repeat a baptism for ANY reason.  When we do this, we make baptism the "end" rather than a "means to an end".

That we get baptized only because Jesus did is a good start (but ONLY a start) to a much more profound and fulfilling conversation, but that conversation must take place not to state opinions and pretend these opinions are biblical facts but, rather, to explore and understand that what actually begins at baptism transcends and overwhelms that single moment.  We must think bigger and more broadly because what we seek - and what our Lord seeks from us - is much bigger and broader than this single moment or any other moment in our lives.  We think of our Journey of Discipleship not as a series of "events" but as moving from one transitional phase to the inevitable next.

Most of us are probably familiar with a general definition of "disciple" as being that of a "student or a follower", but general notions of "discipline" (both from the same Latin root) are probably more negative and reactive rather than positive and proactive.  In our Wesleyan Methodist tradition, we think of baptism within a disciplined (that is, an "ordered") environment to be that of "preparation"; that is, "proactive" rather than "reactive".  We don't have religious instruction to prepare for baptism; we use baptism and religious instruction as preparation for discipleship.  And it seems to me that Jesus' own time of preparation also began with His baptism.  THEN He went into the "wilderness" to commune with YHWH through prayer and fasting.  We are shown these "means of grace" as necessary for a successful confrontation with "temptation", the same temptations you and I endure every single day of our lives - incidentally, from the same source.

So it is the discipline (the practices, the habits) of the Church that structures this intentional, purposeful growth as "means of grace" to a glorious end; not to "keep people in line" but to nurture, aid, and sustain.  Discipline takes nothing for granted and assumes nothing.  It is the Word that reminds us we are not alone, it is the Spirit that teaches us by and through this same Word, and it is the discipline - the ordered structure of discipleship, our practices, our habits, our "means of grace" - that keeps us focused on the Holy Word in our holy deeds on our common, Holy Journey.  Just like Jesus in the wilderness.  It is the Path we are called to follow.

It is the discipline of the Church which reminds us that bumper stickers and Facebook postings do not in themselves constitute discipleship.  I hate to be the one to break it to you, but discipleship is much more challenging than that - AND - much more fulfilling!  There are no "magic spells" in discipleship.  Genuine disciples pursue much more than slogans, symbols, and clever sayings, such as "If God leads you to it, He will lead you through it".  This common saying dances around a biblical theme and has a nice ring to it, but it also leaves much unsaid.  The discipline of the Church gives us ordered - but not rigid - steps to help us endure, to help us get "through it" - but also challenges us to determine that where we are is not necessarily where we were supposed to be in the first place!  In order to get "through it", however, there must be a beginning.  That beginning is, of course, baptism.

The saving grace of baptism by the Lord's hand - before we've "done" anything of ourselves! - is expressed by UM pastor D. Stephen Long in his book, "Keeping Faith: an ecumenical commentary on the Articles of Religion and Confession of Faith in the Wesleyan Tradition" as a "mini-exodus in which we are called to leave the 'Egypt' that is our slavery to sin, pass through the waters, and then journey with" the Lord toward the Promised Land.  This doctrinal concept by which the practice of infant baptism is retained in our tradition includes our children regardless of age and speaks of parental and community responsibility toward our children.  The Exodus story does not tell us of Israelites who left their young children behind simply because the children could not make up their own minds about whether to stay or to go.

We should not get too caught up in baptismal prescriptions; but making a conscious decision NOT to receive the sacrament of baptism or deny our children this evidence of our Lord's "prevenient grace" (that is, HIS work before our conscious awareness) must be made in good conscience according to a sound knowledge of the Holy Scriptures and the Church's discipline and doctrines (structured journey) and not according to loosely translated man-made traditions (remember the "THREE KINGS" from the "ORIENT" that actually are not, according to Scripture??).  It is that "structured journey" by which we express our knowledge that just as there is only One true and living God, there can be only One Faith, One Word, One Baptism, One Cup of Salvation ... One Journey.  And it is the Journey we understand we must endure together.

None of this has anything to do with religious dogma, but it has everything to do with what we understand of our Holy Father's saving grace expressed through our centuries-old doctrines!  This divine, eternal grace exists in the Exodus, and it certainly exists at Calvary.  Late 19th-century theologian Karl Barth, when asked when he was "saved", was fond of saying, "33AD".  So he understood everything AFTER "33AD" to be his response to that "prevenient" grace, a lifetime journey of gratitude, awe, discovery, spiritual growth, and reverence to grace imparted - before he was ever aware; grace which exists whether we choose to partake of that grace or not.  And a decision to "NOT at this time" is in itself a decision, yes?

A study of the sacraments of the Church and their corresponding doctrines is an exhaustive endeavor that cannot be completely covered in a single sermon.  Suffice it to say that the practices of the Church have come from centuries of tradition tried and tested in accordance with a substantial knowledge of what is written in the Scriptures and not in what we simply make up as we go and as we please.  All is a devout effort to "pass through the waters" without being "all wet".  And this we do earnestly, faithfully, and in community with one another.

Let us begin again in the name of the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit.  Amen.   

Thursday, January 10, 2013

A Thought

“We have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed, as a light that shines in a dark place until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretations, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.”  2 Peter 1:19-21

The first thought I had this morning after having read this passage was Tony Alamo, the self-described “prophet” from Fouke AR who is now serving time (and will likely die) in prison for child molestation.  Then I thought about Warren Jeffs, the Fundamentalist Mormon also serving time for the same thing.  Then there was David Koresh, Jim Jones, and so many others who have taken the mantle of spirituality upon themselves and were so charismatic and exciting that hundreds of people followed these men, many to their deaths.  Each of these men claimed to have been speaking on behalf of the Lord and knew the Scriptures well.  What made them so dangerous and yet so compelling that men and women willingly surrendered themselves, their spouses, and even their children to these men and their ideals?

I think the answer lies in the danger expressed by St. Peter in that “private interpretation” is best expressed to those who live in ignorance of what is actually written in the Scriptures.  When our children are not exposed to the stories of the Bible and when we decide for ourselves that we do not need to read and study the Scriptures, we are susceptible to any and all strange ideas that appeal to us on some level of spiritual hunger.  It doesn’t get any more bothersome, however, than when a single preacher becomes the focal point of an entire church’s ministry.  When any community of faith is defined by the pastor rather than by the community itself, there is this substantial risk. 

I don’t think St. Peter is as concerned about the individual opinions we all have more than he is concerned about our choosing to follow any individual preacher who promises to lead us and challenges us to follow him or her rather than to follow Christ alone (rigid rules might be our first clue).  We must remember, however, that hungry people will follow the food and will not care where it comes from. 

Think of the very hungry Jesus in the wilderness who, when tempted by the evil one, resisted with the Word of the Lord: “It is written: ‘man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God(Matthew 4:4).  It is the Word of the Lord – and not individual opinion – by which we find Eternal Life!

Read the Word.  Study the Word.  Gather in the Word in communion with others of the faith.  Opinion is one thing, perspective is another, but “every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” is the ‘manna’ which sustains us and saves us.


Wednesday, January 09, 2013

A Thought

“Wisdom is better than strength.  Nevertheless the poor man’s wisdom is despised, and his words are not heard.  Words of the wise, spoken quietly, should be heard rather than the shout of a ruler of fools” (Ecclesiastes 9:16-17).

Wisdom can come from unlikely sources and never be heard or appreciated for this simple reason: we judge a person’s worth by physical appearance, stature, lineage, social status, and level of education before we will consider taking what this person has to say seriously.  Because these criteria are not satisfied, we judge the person to be lacking in wisdom because he or she lacks credentials.  It is fair to say, then, that we miss out on quite a bit because we require that our physical senses be stimulated before we will even prepare ourselves to listen.  Think about it; how can a “poor” person possess any sort of wisdom and still be “poor”?? 

Credentials go a long way when we consider whether a person can speak to a particular situation, but it is a colossal mistake to believe only “rulers” or the highly educated or the well-connected can say something worth hearing.  Our Lord announced the birth of Messiah to shepherds in the field; not to rulers and kings or even the religious leaders of the day.  It is a mistake to believe the Lord will entrust true wisdom only to the well-to-do.

The writer’s message is simple: we must do more listening and less looking, for our eyes can deceive us.  And when our eyes are deceived, so are our hearts.


Monday, January 07, 2013

A Thought

“… by this time you ought to be teachers, [yet] you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food.  For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the world of righteousness, for he is a babe.  But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Hebrews 5:12-14).

The writer is not admonishing his audience as much as he is encouraging them to be more purposeful, more intentional toward pursuing spiritual perfection.  By the tone of this passage and by that which follows in chapter 6, it seems clear the reading audience had reached a point of complacency in their own spiritual development by which they had (by their own standards) decided they had learned as much as they need to know.  It is a like a toddler who is determined to walk and jerks away from mom or dad and then immediately falls to the floor but hits her head on the coffee table on the way down.  She lacked the skills necessary to take those few steps (though we might applaud the confidence and determination!) but worse, the toddler was unable to discern the danger of the coffee table being so near.

This is the danger of pulling away from religious instruction too soon – or not participating at all in worship attendance and group Bible study sessions.  Having the “senses exercised” means much more than merely experiencing what we perceive to be good and evil in our own settings and in accordance with our own basic understandings.  We need only to look around and see the degeneration of the home and our society to understand that too many have “pulled away” from those “first principles” before they were fully prepared.  Stumbling from time to time is not the problem because that will happen, but a lot of heads are hitting an awful lot of coffee tables on the way down!

We must not be afraid nor too proud to ask for and seek out help in the fellowship of the Church.  It does not mean we are wrong and someone else is right; it means only that we take our spiritual development seriously and that we care for the well-being of others, understanding that the Church and the home (as well as our children and grandchildren) benefit from our devotion to things beyond ourselves.  Being comfortably conversant in the basic doctrines of the Church means knowing what we are committed to and why – and then committing fully.  This is understanding our roles as “sojourners” in the faith and the life-long commitment to sanctification, the pursuit of spiritual perfection.  Getting “saved” or being justified (depending on your particular denominational tradition) is only the beginning of an incredible journey!  So let us journey together!


Thursday, January 03, 2013

A Thought

“There is a man whose labor is with wisdom, knowledge, and skill; yet he must leave his heritage to a man who has not labored for it.  This also is vanity and a great evil.”  Ecclesiastes 2:21

Clearly the writer is lamenting the reality that nothing we do or earn or acquire in this life can be taken with us once our time on this earth is done, but there are two points to be taken from this passage.  One is to remember that the mad dash to accumulate riches for ourselves on this earth will ultimately be for nothing.  These are not the “treasures” Jesus tells us to worry about, for these are the treasures which can rot or rust or be taken from us.  These treasures are no treasure at all but can, in fact, more closely resemble shackles!

The second thing to remember is Divine Grace evident in this passage, for our Holy Father does not love us for what we do; He loves us for who we are.  This is not to say we discount the value of work, whether we are working in the labor of our Christian witness to build up Christ’s Holy Church or working to make our daily bread.  Both are important, both have value, and both are means to an end and not the end themselves. 

Consider the work of the servants in Jesus’ parable of the talents (Mt 25).  The servants had important work to do, but the work was not simply for its own sake.  The servants were entrusted with the “talents” necessary to gain profitable return for the master while he was away.  Those who worked diligently and made significant gains for the master were rewarded for their good works.  More importantly, however, was the work done in preparation for the greater work to be done later.  It is not unlike “working our way to the top” by our willingness to do the “grunt work” and do it well.  No one begins as CEO of a corporation; the work, the training, the education had to be done to prove one’s worth and ability to serve in that top position. 

Jesus points out in the parable that there is something even greater to be entrusted with once our Master returns and judges our labors.  Did we prove to Him that we can be trusted with all He has given for our use?  Have we proved to Him that we earnestly want to be with Him and continue working for Him in the life to come?  Can we be trusted with even greater riches for His sake? 

The “vanity” spoken of in Ecclesiastes is that vanity by which we only focus on our personal gain; this includes that religious notion of “personal salvation” by which so many mistakenly believe they have been relieved of any need to “work” for our Lord and build up His Church.  Anything we do strictly for personal gain is “vanity and a great evil”.

The people of the Lord have been given priceless treasure to nourish us and our “neighbors” on our pilgrimage to the Promised Land.  Our gain is that which prepares us for the next day’s journey, for we are Kingdom People; and the Kingdom is where we are headed.  It is the Kingdom of Heaven for which we are being prepared.