Thursday, May 30, 2013

A Thought for Thursday 5/30/13

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  If we say we have no sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.”  1 John 1:8-10

To say that our Lord forgives all sin when we come into His covenant is an understatement.  To say that all sin forevermore is automatically forgiven without our effort to repent – OR – that it is impossible to sin once our Lord is received into our lives is deceptive, to say the least.

St. John is not trying to make his charges feel guilty.  Rather he is reminding followers of Christ that their task in spiritual growth is far from over.  We think we are “already saved” as if we are done?  St. John says we are just getting started!  But being aware of the sin in our lives is being aware of our need for our Savior in our lives.  Being aware of sin in our lives in being painfully aware that though we have been cleansed through justification, we are still being sanctified as we continue the Journey together.  Our justification before the Lord is His reminder that we have hope in Him, but we must not turn our backs on Him and choose again the old path that was leading us to death.  Justification is a whole new journey, a whole new path, a whole new life; but the path, the “Way” is Christ’s Way, not ours.



Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A Thought for Wednesday 5/29/13

“Scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming?’ … but beloved, do not forget this one thing; that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.  The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”  2 Peter 3:-4, 8-9

I would suppose “scoffers” have been around since the beginning, and certainly there were “scoffers” who did not believe in the return of the Lord especially after He failed to show after that first generation of apostles.  Besides, who can say when the “last days” are?  Many believe we are seeing such signs pointing to The End as we think we understand it, but I rather think we are only more aware because of the world-wide media and instant access to news and information. Just reading biblical accounts, we can easily see profound evil has been around for a very long time.

Notice Peter’s interesting choice of words, however.  Our Lord is “longsuffering”; that is, very patient in putting up with us – “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance”.  If Peter can be taken at his word and our Lord is truly “not willing” that any should perish in those “last days”, then there is a remarkable call upon the Church as we navigate these “days”; whether they be “current” or “last”.  If our Lord is “not willing” that any should perish and the Church has been called forth to proclaim the Good News of Messiah, then it must also be that our Lord is “not willing” that the Church be so inwardly focused and simply wait for people to show up!  Our Lord called forth the Church for His purposes, not our own.  So the Church’s conversation must never be how we can improve “our” church and/or make it more attractive; rather our conversation must necessarily be about how we can share the Gospel, how we can serve our communities! 

The “last days” will come soon enough if they haven’t already.  Pity the church that sits and waits.



Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A Thought for Tuesday 5/28/13

“When the Lord your God brings you into the land which you go to possess and has cast out many nations before you …and when the Lord your God delivers them over to you, you shall conquer them and utterly destroy them.  You shall make no covenant with them nor show mercy to them.  Nor shall you make marriages with them.  You shall not give your daughter to their son, nor take their daughter for your son.  For they will turn your sons away from following Me …”  Deuteronomy 7:1,2-4

This is a difficult passage even many believers struggle with because it makes the Lord – and the people of the Lord – appear to be bloodthirsty.  Why “utterly destroy” these people without “mercy” (we know this tact today as “preemptive strike”) who have so far caused no harm to us and at least appear to be no real threat to our well-being?  And Christians remember Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in which He states: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7).

Among the many abhorrent practices of these “many nations” that will be driven out, human sacrifice is among those practices in the worship of their many gods.  This practice alone should repel many who would not even think of handing their own children over to such, but strangely enough we often hand our children over to other, more subtle cultural practices that do not destroy their bodies (not right away, at least) but “utterly destroy” them from within by virtually infusing them with sinful practices that will ultimately lead them away from the Lord; practices that over time will come to appear “normal” and thus acceptable.  It is why Christians are (or should be) strongly discouraged from marrying non-Christians and why Jews are generally prohibited from marrying non-Jews.

For our purposes, there is no need to focus on “utterly destroying” anyone.  However, for God’s purposes there is an absolute need to destroy anything that threatens the spiritual well-being of our families or ourselves, and cast out anything (or even anyone) that has even the potential to draw us away from our Lord and His Covenant.  This, I think, is Moses’ emphasis to the people of Israel as they are preparing to enter into the Promised Land that is already populated.  And this, I think, should be our emphasis as we bring children into a world already populated with people who practice strange and abominable things, things that do not please our God, things that do not glorify our Lord, things that will “utterly destroy” us; things that have over time come to appear “normal” and thus acceptable.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5).  Jesus not only affirms Moses’ teaching but points out as well that our love for God is expressed in our obedience to His commandments (John 14:21); all of them, not just the ones we like!  So we must, for the sake of our love of the Lord our God, cast out and “utterly destroy” those things, those practices that threaten our relationship with our Lord.  Because sin is no small thing for the One who found it necessary to give His all.



Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Code

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
John 16:12-15

One Sunday morning an old cowboy entered a church just before services were to begin. Although the old man and his clothes were spotlessly clean, his jeans, denim shirt, and boots were very worn and ragged - well used.  In his hand he carried a worn out old hat and a worn out Bible - equally well used. The church was in a very upscale and exclusive part of the city. It was the largest and most beautiful church the old cowboy had ever seen. The people of the congregation were all dressed with expensive clothes and accessories. 

As the cowboy took a seat, the others moved away from him. No one greeted, spoke to, or welcomed him. They were shocked at his appearance and did not try to hide their contempt. As the old cowboy was leaving the church after services, the preacher approached him and asked the cowboy to do him a favor. "Before you come back in here again, have a talk with God and ask him what he thinks would be appropriate attire for worship." The old cowboy assured the preacher he would. 

The next Sunday, the cowboy showed back up for the services wearing the same ragged jeans, shirt, boots, and hat. Once again he was completely shunned.  Before he could even sit, the preacher approached the cowboy and said, "I thought I asked you to speak to God before you came back to our church." "I did," replied the old cowboy. "If you spoke to God, what did he tell you the proper attire should be for worshiping in here?" asked the preacher. 

"Well, sir, God told me that He didn't have a clue what I should wear. He said He'd never been in here before."
(author unknown)

The cowboy (not the drug-store wanna-be) understands and abides by a certain code.  It is not strictly an exterior, tough guy, Marlboro-man "dress" code, but a code established long before he was born; a code that will endure long after he's gone.  It is a code that dictates a manner of living and doing and being.  The code is honest and direct, tried and true.  There is no fluff, no nonsense, and no expectation that many outside his own circle would even understand, let alone appreciate the wisdom of "never drinking from the creek while downstream from the herd". 

Yet this code acknowledges a code-less world, as the cowboy in this story exposes, but the cowboy remains steadfast and true to what he knows is right.  He doesn't judge the code-less world even if he may pity those who are trapped in that world, but he also does not compromise the code to accommodate those who have no code.  Just as the cowboy lives according to this code long established and perfected by those before him, he is also not free to change the terms of the code to suit his own taste or preference - nor does he even want to.  It does not mean he does not have a mind of his own; it means he believes in something enough to live it.

Last week the Church's calendar marked our entry into the season of Pentecost which will extend into autumn.  This season is referred to as "ordinary" time, but I think the Church must never suggest we will stand down to anything "ordinary"; or that in the life of the Body of Christ, anything can ever be "ordinary"!  We are not called or set apart by baptism to be "ordinary" people because we have been redeemed by, and should serve, an extraordinary God by offering extraordinary worship, extraordinary gifts, extend extraordinary hospitality to strangers, and be extraordinary blessing to all of God's people - whether they think they belong to our Holy Father or not - because, in fact, they do; they just don't know it yet.  And they may never come to know it if God's people betray The Code.

The Season of Pentecost calls forth much more from God's people because Pentecost did not only "happen" 2000 years ago.  If it was only a one-time occurrence, a single event never to be repeated, and we truly are in "ordinary" time as "ordinary" people, then the Church called forth on that occasion also died that very day, as soon as the "moment" had passed.  In this spirit of Pentecost, then, we should look more closely at what Jesus is teaching in John's gospel. 

"When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on his own ..."

Jesus is, of course, preparing His disciples for His imminent death and, ultimately, His Ascension; when He will no longer be physically present.  This much is clear to us now, for we know how the story goes.  What does not seem clear to the modern Church is what this should mean to us 2000 years removed from this intimate moment Jesus shares with His disciples.  Though many different minds can - and do - come to many different conclusions, we cannot deny there is an emphasis - AND - a restriction on the role of the Spirit as Jesus reminds His disciples that the Spirit "will not speak on His own, but will speak what He hears".

We must be mindful that Jesus as the "Logos" - that is, the "Word" of God amplified, exemplified, personified, and fulfilled in Jesus - is the same "Word", the same "Logos" that was with God in the beginning long before Jesus of Nazareth was born, this being the One and same God who "does not change" (Malachi 3:6) for anyone or anything.  The Spirit of God - which is often referred to in Scripture as "Wisdom" - is that same "Wisdom" that was in the beginning with the "Word"; "Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth" (Proverb 8). 

We have the assurance, then, that this Eternal Being - not only Messiah Jesus but the whole and Holy Triune God - is the "same yesterday, today, and forever".  The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews expresses this reality in Messiah, but expresses in the Greek that it is the "WORD" of God (personified in Jesus, of course), the "logos" that is "the same yesterday, today, and forever" (13:8).  In this particular context, then, the writer is warning the people of God: "Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines" (13:9).  This would especially include folks who invoke the Holy Spirit "in the name of Jesus" but operate and act independently of the long-established "Logos", the "Word of God" ... that is, "the Code"; the "Code" we are free to accept or reject in its entirety - but can never change.  

This biblical principle and spiritual reality cannot be denied even as we can testify that our Holy Father is doing "new" things, but we must not confuse a "new" context (such as our modern, "enlightened" age) with a whole new "code".  I am not speaking of "the code" strictly as a list of rules such as the "Ten Commandments" nor am I suggesting we can be defined only by a rigid list of "rules" especially when we don't understand these rules ... or even try to. 

There are rules, of course, commandments we are obliged to obey, as Jesus affirms throughout His ministry; but these "rules" express and exemplify much more than a simple check list by which we justify our own selves in our own righteousness.  Rather, we are called to express and personify the "Code" that "was in the beginning", still is, and will be forevermore; not to change it or somehow try to "improve" it but rather to live it - and to remember that it does not belong to us but is rather entrusted to our care.

Just as the Spirit will not speak on His own - as Jesus never claims to speak even on His own - the Spirit surely will not pull us toward "various and strange doctrines" or away from the "Logos"; the very ETERNAL WORD of God - the WORD long established, the WORD perfectly fulfilled in Messiah.  The WORD is the CODE, the Spirit is the WISDOM of the Code, and the CODE is Almighty God.  The Father, His Word, His Wisdom. 

Like the cowboy, we have a Code.  He is the Word of God for the people of God from the One true and living God.  In the name of the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit.  Amen.       

Thursday, May 23, 2013

A Thought for Thursday 5/23/13

“Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have.  For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’.”  Hebrews 13:5

It is not easy to be content with what we have if our minds are constantly on things others have; this is the writer’s admonition in advising us to conduct ourselves “without covetousness”.  It must be even more difficult for the folks of Moore OK who, according to morning new reports, will be “months” before finally settling into a place they can call their own, having lost in many cases everything they ever owned or ever loved.

The assurance the writer proclaims, however, is not about whether or when we will regain what we once thought we owned; the assurance is about what is to be gained in faithfulness.  The writer is quoting from Joshua as the people of Israel are about to cross into the Promised Land.  Joshua had been the faithful one throughout the wilderness journey and had been designated Moses’ successor as leader of God’s people.  The Lord had assured Joshua that as long as he remained faithful to the Lord and the Lord’s Law, the Lord will “never leave or forsake” him (Joshua 1:5-9).

Remember this assurance is not about what Joshua or the Israelites “had” or think they owned; it is about what the Lord has in store for those who live in faith and obedience to Him and, yes, His Law.  It is not about God loving us “no matter what”, as some cheap-grace theologians might try to preach.  This divine love is, of course, a given at the Crucifixion, but a faithful response of the people is also required.  It is about faithfully being God’s people in a godless world and preparing to enter into the Lord’s domain.  It is not about what we think we have; it is entirely about what God wills us to have for the Journey – and - at the Journey’s end.


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Size does matter

It is ironic that the many IRS higher-ups claim they "did not (or do not) know" and the Department of Justice has overreached, but the State Department (and White House) suggests what happened in Benghazi could not have been avoided for lack of adequate resources.  Who knew what, when they knew, and how they came to know is not nearly as important, or as revealing, as a government so vast that it cannot be adequately managed or, in the case of Benghazi, that the government is not big enough.  That the President of the United States, the chief executive of the nation, could possibly not have known - or would not have been told - suggests ineptitude, remarkable arrogance as if above the petty details, disdain for the job itself, or all the above.

Now an upper-level "manager" of IRS is under subpoena to testify before the Congress and has made it clear through her attorney that though she is innocent of any wrong-doing, she will nevertheless invoke the 5th Amendment to protect herself from "self-incrimination".  Or is it that she will be seeking to protect other, more higher-ups than she?  The implications boggle the mind especially if it can be honestly stated that she really does not know as much as the Congress needs to find out.  But to be in her position and refuse to answer questions is not her "right"; it is her contempt for those who have every "right" to know what happened, how it came to happen, and who ultimately made it happen.

It is as easy as it is careless and irresponsible for anyone to suggest the president or his staff is corrupt without solid evidence.  This corruption is going to be very hard to prove not because evidence cannot be gleaned but because the only evidence in abundance at this point is sheer neglect, mismanagement, or downright incompetence - by the president himself (sorry, Mr. President, but it all begins and ends with you whether you like it or not).  I do not suggest corruption may not eventually be uncovered; I only suggest at this point that the government has simply gotten too big to adequately manage or even control; and its sheer size makes "hiding places" too easy.  So when the magnitude of such scandals involves departments of the government that affect our daily living in substantial ways by so many who "do not know", we are in very big trouble - especially when the White House clams up - OR - blames anyone else with nothing more than political innuendo.

Benghazi suggests sheer neglect (or total naiveté) of necessary duties by then-secretary Hillary Clinton and President Obama.  Both have demonstrated remarkable contempt for the military in the past and so perhaps failed to address and seek appropriate advice and guidance on what was clearly a security - and military - situation: a direct threat on the sovereignty of the United States, our embassy.  Resources were available but were either told to stand down or were not called upon.  This alone is a chargeable offense against the commander-in-chief of the armed forces! 

The IRS mess and Justice's overreach with AP, Fox, and now CBS suggests a government so vast that it cannot be controlled; thus allowing missteps, mismanagement, and yes, corruption on nearly every level.  Even a few "rogue" agents is no excuse for a situation that is at least two years in the making, possibly longer, without someone in charge stepping up and making necessary corrections AND advising the chief executive of a potential political land mine.  This is much more than a handful of low-level "rogue" agents; this involves a "rogue" White House staff and a "rogue" president who would voluntarily surrender his duties and responsibilities to those who are not accountable to the people of the United States.

No matter how we slice it, this government is out of hand and we've no one to blame but ourselves by demanding more from government than we are willing to give.  From top to bottom, we expect by "rights" that to which we are not entitled.  Yes, the president is ultimately responsible, and this cannot be glossed over.  For the people to suggest we are not complicit on some level, however regretfully, is to be as naive, as complacent, or as neglectful as we accuse the president of being.     

A Thought for Wednesday 5/22/13

“Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”  Romans 13:10

To be as prominent a word and biblical ideal, “love” is the most misunderstood and misquoted even in this context.  In failing to understand that love of neighbor is “fulfillment” of the law, we have somehow reached a point at which we declare that love negates “The Law”, especially as St. Paul also writes, “We are not under law …”  Translated?  Therefore we do not have to.  WRONG! 

The commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself” is not a strictly Christian ideal; it is a commandment of the Most High God (Leviticus 19:18) and is affirmed by Jesus.  It is not negated in any way except in our complacency and refusal to go out of our way or give in any way that may inconvenience us, but it is also not defined by how we may feel at any particular time.  “Love” is a decision and a commitment to something much greater.  Love God but hate neighbor?  St. John says God is not in that heart even if we may fool ourselves by declaring that “only Jesus knows what’s in my heart”.  Yet the biblical principle is consistent: we love God by loving our neighbor.

Let us also not misunderstand “love”, though.  Do we express our “love” for our children by allowing them to go into situations we know are risky?  Of course not!  We protect them, and we punish them if they go outside established boundaries not because we get to but because we “love” them (even though they may say they hate us, we persevere for their good).  This same “love” is expressed to our neighbor who goes outside reasonable boundaries without a word from us.  We know the risk involved and yet we say nothing because we are afraid of being accused of “judging” them.  Yet it is the very lack of love that allows us to neglect what is good in favor of what is safe.

Jesus did not call His disciples into a life of safety.  It seems ironic that the Lord who protects us and keeps us safe from the evil one is the same God and Lord who calls us into a ministry that does not come without risk.  We need only to look around and see that the dying churches are the churches that are playing it safe and risking nothing.  The vital and growing churches are sticking their necks out.  The dying churches “love” their places and their traditions.  The vital and living and growing churches “love” God and trust God and continually prove their love of God and neighbor by taking risks for God in their ministries to their communities.

Love is all-encompassing and compels us to move outside of ourselves.  Otherwise it is just another four-letter word.


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A Thought for Tuesday 5/21/13

“The Spirit also helps in our weaknesses.  For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.  Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.”  Romans 8:26-27 NKJV

Continuing to try and process the devastation in Oklahoma and knowing prayer is a must, there is an important misconception many have about prayer that St. Paul seems to be addressing.  Somehow we have it in our minds that the Lord is waiting for our guidance through our prayers before He will act which, of course, cannot be true; and it is a little too simple to expect that our prayers can somehow sway the Lord’s mind especially if our own desires conflict with His perfect will.  Yes, the “prayer of the faithful avails much”, but there is no real context that says we will get whatever we want whenever we want according to our own personal desires or what we may think is best.

In the wake of the destruction of these past few days not only in Oklahoma but in Texas and across the Midwest, it is ok that we cannot find words.  It is ok that we do not feel compelled to “advise” the Holy Father as to what He should do.  It is not ok, however, to dismiss our need to pray especially as we prepare ourselves to be called forth by the Lord to act as His “agents” in helping the victims of these storms rebuild their lives and, most importantly, restore their faith in our Lord and His Holy Church.

We must give ourselves over to prayer, contemplative prayer, and surrender ourselves to the Lord each day, of course, but perhaps even more so in the coming days as the news jerks at our heart strings and the many charitable organizations compete for our limited resources.  It is only by His perfect will that we will be instructed – and comforted – so that we can help our brothers and sisters move forward with their lives, help them recover what is left of their possessions, and share with them as they mourn the loss of their loved ones.

We are The Church, the Body of Christ, the very Voice of the Almighty God Himself.  We can be no more than Him, but we must be no less.  Consider that as we “wait for God”, He may well be “waiting” for us!


Monday, May 20, 2013

A Thought for Monday 5/20/13

“My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?  Why are You so far from helping me, so far from the words of my groaning?  O my God, I cry by day, but You do not answer; and by night, but find no rest … yet it was You who took me from the womb; You kept me safe on my mother’s breast.  On You I was cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me You have been my God.  Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help me.”  Psalm 22:1-2, 9-11 NRSV

Watching the news this morning and trying to process the devastation left by yesterday’s storms in the Midwest (and the potential for even more today), this prayer of lamentation crossed my mind.  Though I cannot say I appreciate the news media stuffing microphones into the faces of victims who are overwhelmed by their losses, I could not help but to think of how this prayer, this psalm must have come to be written and exactly what the writer was expressing in his own time; when the writer surely believed his own world was coming to an end, and God seemed so ... absent.

Just as easily as we can see the Lord in the majesty of a glorious sunrise, we can as easily feel the Lord’s absence in the wake of disaster.  We take heart, however, and especially in the season of Pentecost when we remember the Lord giving Himself not only at Mt Sinai but also in Jerusalem … and each day since – as long as we are willing to receive it and offer it to others as it is offered to us: assurance, help in time of need, presence, security.

Our prayers often reflect our own human emotions and when we feel as though we’ve lost everything and there seems no hope, it is easy to believe the Lord has turned His back on us.  Yet when the people of God gather to offer a helping hand to those in the midst of their sorrows, when the people of God gather to share in their sorrows and help with their recovery, then the people so devastated may proclaim, “You have answered me” (Psalm 22:21b).  This is when they see our Lord; when the Church is at her very best!

Let us remember our blessings, however great or small, and recount Jesus’ words to His followers as He reminds us why we are so blessed: “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded” (Luke 12:48).  That is, we are so abundantly blessed so that we may bless others.  That is “the code”.  It is the Word of the Lord given in so many ways so that it may be given in so many ways.


Sunday, May 19, 2013

Breaking it down

Acts 2:1-21
John 14:8-17

"Deconstructionism" is in many Christian circles a dirty word and a threat to a long established order because the term means exactly what it seems to imply: taking what is (or, rather, what we have come to believe "is"), and then breaking it down to its base form (its beginning) so it can be better understood. 

What is disturbing to many traditionalist, conservative Christians is that the practice and theory of "deconstruction" interferes with what we believe has been long settled.  It rarely occurs to us that much of what was established so long ago was "deconstructed" in the 16th-century Reformation.  What has been offered to us since then as "reconstructed" in the anti-Rome fever of the Reformation has lost, shall we say, some of its "salt" as some doctrines have come under much closer scrutiny and have actually begun to fall apart.  And it's not because of "liberal" seminaries; it is because of a more careful examination of what we think already "is". 

In seeking to elaborate on the "Truth" as we understand it OR to try and make it make sense in a common way OR in the way we most personally desire this "Truth" to express, we are inclined to pile on and pile on fond notions, ideas, and opinions until what we sought to expand on has become virtually unrecognizable, self-justifying and just plain wrong, or completely outside of its appropriate context.  Peter's sermon is such a case in point as he quotes from the prophet Joel and concludes that portion of his "sermon" with "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved".   

True, of course, and not because it is "new" but because it is an expression of our Lord's Eternal Covenant with those who will repent and come forward to be counted among the faithful.  Then, of course, the Philippian jailer in Acts 16 is told by Paul and Silas when he asked what he must do to be saved, and they replied, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household" (16:31).  True also, but there is in verse 32 the part we overlook, the part that MUST ALWAYS accompany the first part: "Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house ..."  Exactly what that "word of the Lord" was is perhaps anyone's guess, but it is a safe bet that in this "word of the Lord" shared with the jailer, "Jesus Christ" became much more than a phrase and even more profound than just a man's name.

There are other instances in which people are encouraged to "believe in Jesus Christ", "receive Jesus Christ as 'personal' Lord and Savior", and many other such phrases developed by human tradition (but not Scripture), but the invitation to "believe" falls short of what Jesus is recorded as actually teaching by His very life - the all-encompassing part of what it means to actually "believe", to go beyond simply acknowledging a "name".  The phrases the Church has developed over time become virtually meaningless because they lack sound context.  That is, we encourage people to "believe in Jesus Christ", but we don't really tell them much about Jesus Christ because we are typically unable to articulate what "Jesus Christ" really means. 

And we don't really know what "Jesus Christ" really means because Christians are too inclined to jump straight from the "Ten Commandments" directly into the New Testament.  It is the deficiency I found within myself as I challenged a Sunday evening gathering recently: Can you tell "The Story" as Moses commanded the people of Israel in Deuteronomy 6:7?  Can you tell "The Story" as Peter did in Acts 2 or as Stephen did in Acts 7?  If we cannot, then we cannot articulate in a useful or spiritually uplifting way what or who Jesus Christ is.  It is often as if Jesus sprang forth from nothing - or worse - becomes a "god" unto Himself.  And if we reduce Him only to a "personal Savior" role without an explanation and full context of "The Story" to back it up, we're saying virtually nothing of any real or lasting benefit to those who may hear us and want to hear more - simply because we have nothing "more" to offer!

It has long been necessary, neglected though it has been, to "deconstruct" in the contemporary Church because of the many who are choosing to walk away from the contemporary Church "in search of the Lord" even though we have excused ourselves from any responsibility because, after all, if "The Message" is good enough for "us", it should be good enough for them.  It has become in too many instances a "take it or leave it" proposition.  If they can't take it, they can leave it.  It's their loss.  Right?  WRONG!  Because what we only think is "The Message" is often so far removed from "The Story" that "The Message" has no meat - only "gravy".  And we cannot live on gravy just as "man cannot live on bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God".  Jesus in the wilderness with the evil one was not anticipating what St. Paul may write in the future!  He was referring to and Being the "Word" as it is already established!

So to paraphrase a popular 1970's TV commercial for a popular hamburger restaurant chain, "Where's the meat?"  This is what "deconstruction" aims to find out; dig under the gravy, remove the bread, get past the lettuce and tomatoes and pickles and onions and cheese and mayo or mustard or ketchup and hopefully find the "meat", the very essence of the burger itself!  The rest of the stuff has the potential to enhance the essence as long as it does not overwhelm the essence, but these are not what we ordered the burger for in the first place.  Otherwise we would have been perfectly satisfied with a garden salad.  Good stuff, of course, but lacking any substantial protein which feeds muscle growth.

So it comes to this.  The Gospel of John refers to the "Word made flesh"; that Eternal Word which always was "in the beginning", long ago established.  Not "Jesus", mind you; the "Word" Jesus came to exemplify and amplify.  So it is if we do not understand the "Word" or know the "Story", we cannot know Jesus the Messiah.  And contrary to popular belief, "Christ" is NOT Jesus' last name!

This is especially important on Pentecost because of what Pentecost ultimately means in the more ancient - and enduring - Jewish tradition of Pentecost, the Festival of Weeks; Shavu'ot.  It is a holy period commemorating the GIVING of Torah at Mt Sinai to Moses.  It is when the Lord gave of Himself to the people of Israel.  The distinction between "giving" Torah and "receiving" Torah is important in the tradition as well because we are "constantly" receiving the Word of the Lord when the people of God are at their best and firing on all spiritual cylinders.  And Messiah Jesus is nothing if not "The Word" come in the flesh.  This is the principle expressed by St. Augustine in how he seeks to describe the Lord as "ever ancient and ever new".

This is what "breaking it down" gives us.  You see, Pentecost did not begin only 2000 years ago with the apostles as is commonly believed among Christians.  Pentecost already is firmly established in Torah and celebrated as the Word of the Lord "given" to the Lord's people, but it is also much more than merely obeying a simple commandment to observe a holy festival.  Deconstruction breaks it down so it will not become so encumbered and weighed down by human traditions that it becomes only a single "event" never again to be repeated.  In a manner of speaking, deconstruction might crumble the foundations of the "institutional" Church in which we have become so comfortable so as to free up the "missional" Church; the "real" Church that was called forth on Shavu'ot, the Jewish Festival of Weeks.  Pentecost.

"This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive because it neither sees Him nor knows Him.  You [already] know Him because He abides with you, and He will be with you ..."

Pentecost is what the Lord our God has already given and promises to keep giving as long as we keep receiving.  It is now up to us to respond not only this day but each day we draw a breath; each day we interact with our families; each day we interact with our friends; each day we interact with our neighbors; each day we interact with a rude store clerk!  We receive what is eternally given as we "keep [His] commandments".

This is Pentecost.  We do not commemorate what has already passed; we celebrate what "is" and what "is to come"; the Word of God for the people of God.  In the name of the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Who's running this popsicle stand?

Long ago I began trying to wean myself from politics because I felt being too immersed in politics would affect my preaching and my theology studies (it was beginning to). Politics is real life and there is no getting around it (even in theology) especially in our representative republic, but the headlines of late have become all too compelling to ignore.  It is especially bad when even Mr. Obama's media apologists and congressional Democrats begin calling out the president.  Even MSNBC's Chris Matthews has finally come to acknowledge what many had suspected even before he was elected the first time: Mr. Obama is not equipped for the job. 

A few short years in a state legislature and a few short years in the US Senate (two of those four years having been spent on the road campaigning for the presidency) is not adequate preparation for what must be the most grueling and all-encompassing job on the face of the planet.  Now, according to Chris Matthews, it seems clear Mr. Obama does not even like the job.  Not the real job, anyway.  The speeches?  Yes.  The traveling?  Yes.  The campaigning?  Yes.  Lecturing the nation?  Yes.  The vacations?  Absolutely.  But dealing with the Congress and dealing with the day-to-day executive work?  No.  This president has yet to step up to the plate and claim the job.  He has been much more inclined to travel the country at great expense (ours, not his) and give speeches telling the nation that the Congress is not doing its job.  Well, we already knew this; too many idealists, however, failed to understand that in those moments of finger-pointing, the president was not doing HIS job!  That is, until now.

The nation has a real problem, and Al-Qaida seems to be the very least of what we must be concerned with presently.  The IRS has gone "rogue", but no one seems to know who is responsible.  The Justice Department seems out of control, and the Attorney General appears clueless.  The State Department under former secretary Hillary Clinton as it concerns the ongoing investigation into what went wrong in Benghazi seems more concerned with removing Mrs. Clinton from any fault, responsibility, or accountability (in preparation for 2016, perhaps?).  In the middle of it all, the best this president can do so far is to "fire" someone who was already on his way out (the IRS interim commissioner).  Now it is claimed these few "rogue" agents were acting under orders from higher up.  How high up, exactly, is the source of consternation especially given the conservative political nature of the non-profit groups these "rogue" agents were particularly concerned with.

As it pertains to the alleged cover-up over the Benghazi attack, more than one has suggested "impeachment" may be on the table.  This is not the first time impeachment has been suggested against President Obama, but this may be the first time such measures may finally become warranted.  Let us not forget that an impeachment is not a declaration of guilt; much like a civilian indictment, there must be articles of impeachment with specific charges and a foundation to back up each article.  Innuendo and political posturing will not do.  Then the trial comes at which time these charges must be proved.  So we should not get too fired up and think impeachment will solve the many problems this nation must face not only with Benghazi but also with Treasury and with Justice. 

And let us also not forget that should impeachment happen and should Mr. Obama choose to resign rather than face these charges, we will then have President Biden and perhaps Vice-President Pelosi.  Are we ready for that one??

Tongue firmly planted in cheek, of course, because we cannot concern ourselves with the political fall-out of what may come.  We must be concerned presently with what "is", and what "is" is not merely a few "rogue" and over-zealous IRS agents "off the reservation"; we have an entirely "rogue" federal government that has completely removed itself from its only source of power to govern: the People of the United States.

The President of the United States is ultimately responsible; and if this particular president is incapable of or unwilling to bring this government in check, then impeachment will become the necessary course of action.  Right now it is clear no one is "in charge".  And that is a much bigger problem than many of us truly realize or appreciate.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

A Thought for Tuesday 5/14/13

“Like a crane or a swallow, so I chattered; I mourned like a dove.  My eyes fail from looking upward.  O Lord, I am oppressed; undertake for me!”  Isaiah 38:14

The story is told of a pastor at his new appointment who was standing in his study on the first Sunday of his appointment.  As the congregation waited for the service to begin, the pastor did not come out.  An usher went to the pastor’s study to advise him that it was time to start but found the pastor staring out the window of the study.  When the usher told the pastor it was time to start, the pastor slowly turned and the usher noticed tears streaming down the pastor’s face. 

“Are you ill, pastor?”  The pastor replied, “No.  I was just looking out the window into the alley at these poor, dirty children playing.”  The usher, with his head lowered, quietly said, “I know what you mean, but soon enough you will get used to it.”  The pastor stated, “I know I will get used to it.  That’s why I am crying.”

There are always appropriate times to “look upward” especially when it feels as though our world is crumbling around us, just as Israel must have noticed as their homeland was disintegrating and all seemed lost.  We “look upward” when we cannot find any other means to address the many problems we face almost daily.  And yet there are often those times when we become so self-absorbed with our own problems that we forget there are always others whose problems, real problems, make our own problems seem more like blessings; but because we see it so often, we just become “used to it” so that the real problems our neighbors face become unnoticeable.  We still see, but we do not comprehend.

A dear friend asked recently if I thought I was truly prepared for what may be revealed if I asked.  I thought of the story I share with you and could not help but to wonder if maybe I had already “seen” what the Lord revealed to me but did not notice because the call and claim of our Lord on my life did not look like what I had expected (or desired).  Or maybe I was just too wrapped up in my own life and my own petty problems to notice.

We must not forget Jesus’ claim on Isaiah’s prophecy: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor.  He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18,19).  Now that our Lord has long ascended to the Throne of Grace, we have been blessed by the power of the Holy Spirit to claim His mission as our own, as the mission of the Church not to comfort the comfortable or to give sight to those who already think they see!  It is time for the Church (that’s you and me!) to gain a new perspective and open her eyes to the real world, the real problems our neighbors face each day because Jesus’ claim on Isaiah’s prophecy is Jesus’ very definition and vision for His Body – the Church.


Monday, May 13, 2013

A Thought for Monday 5/13/13

“Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!  Therefore the world does not know us because it did not know Him.  Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.  And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.”  1 John 3:1-3 NKJV

One of the most misunderstood and often misquoted (or rather, misapplied) passages in Scripture are Jesus’ final words: “It is finished”.  It is misapplied more often than not because we have been led to believe that everything is finally and completely settled.  Well, for our Lord and all He set out to accomplish, no truer words were spoken.  Jesus did all the Father had set forth for Him.  For us, however, it is anything but settled, and disciples must never utter such words as “we are finished” before our lives have really even gotten underway.

Discipleship is much more than simply calling oneself “saved”.  Discipleship is much more than worship, fellowship, prayer, fasting, and Scripture study.  In discipleship we participate in the means of grace for this reason: discovery.  We find more of the wonders of the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven with each day and in each encounter with someone and something new.  Discipleship is entirely about discovery because if we are not learning (discovering), then we cannot be said to be disciples (students) of Jesus.  If we think we are “finished” and that we know all we think we need to know, we have discontinued the search and discovery process and have declared ourselves equal to the Most High God!  We get stuck on the “elementary principles” (Hebrews 6), and thus we stop growing.  In this we are not only stunted in spiritual growth, we actually begin to fall backward because the Journey itself continues.  We’ve simply chosen to go no further.

St. John gives his readers something to hang on to (“now we are children of God”), but he also seems to indicate that the “children of God” will be the only ones to whom our Lord will finally be revealed in His most glorious form “as He is”.  HE  already is, but He is “not yet” revealed to us because we are “not yet” there even though we are, as justified before God in Christ Jesus, “children of God”.  This means it is not “finished” for us, but rather has only just begun.  For if we think it is finished for us, our own children will never even get started!

Let each day be a new revelation not in the man-made world but in the natural, created world AND in the Holy Scriptures.  Cast aside everything you think you already know, and open yourselves to the new experience in Messiah.  Our Lord has much to show us and even more to be revealed in His own time.  Let us dare not think we already know, that we are already “finished” for there is much more “yet to be revealed”! 


Sunday, May 12, 2013

Pray the Church

 John 17:20-26

In light of what Jesus is praying for, it is incredibly ironic that what typically unites people is not love for a common thing but rather disdain for, and fear of, a common enemy.  It seems human nature is such that we can get much more excited about whom we can hate - and get others on our "side" to help us hate - than we are about the opportunities our Lord offers to us to minister to the world at large ... to give the world a viable alternative to hatred and fear.

That dreadful day of September in 2001 is only one example.  Though the attack was inconceivable to most of us and was genuine threat to all we hold dear, it was good to see the many throughout the nation initially flock to the churches.  They were seeking answers, seeking safety, seeking mercy, and the Lord alone knows what else.  It was not long, however, before this new-found spiritualism gave way to patriotism.  Worship attendance dwindled back to "normal", and faith gave way to anger - however "righteous" our anger may have been.  I still think, however, that "fear" was probably the more accurate term rather than "anger".

This is what is commonly referred to as the "mob mentality".  I remember a few years ago when Ohio State fans were in the streets celebrating that school's win (I think it was football season), and the man who ran our trucking terminal in Columbus feared for his safety when the crowd turned ugly and began destroying public and private property.  What began as a celebration in common love for the Buckeyes and excitement for a championship turned into a melee of destruction and disdain for one's neighbors.  Given that roughly 80% of the American population claims a Christian affiliation, it is safe to say a significant portion of this OH "mob" probably attended worship services the Sunday prior and maybe the Sunday after this "party"!

It is essentially because the Church has, over time, learned to turn our faith off and on according to appropriate "time and place"; and we have relegated faith to almost a level of superstition because we simply do not get that we are either "always" disciples of Christ - OR - we never are ... just as we cannot say at particular times we are married as it suits us or deny our marriages when another opportunity presents itself.  Or for those who are not married, it is claiming to be a child of the Most High God when it feels good or when we feel a need for self-justification - AND - denying that better part of ourselves when we deem such expressions of faith to be "inappropriate" or inconvenient.  And contrary to popular belief, such "inappropriate" times and places ARE NOT defined or determined by the US Supreme Court, the US Congress, the White House, or the state legislatures!

One writer states, "I am convinced the only way we will impact our culture significantly is for people to SEE the Truth, not just hear it.  And the Truth is that the way of Jesus is a better way to live" (Robert Renfroe, "Good News", May/June 2013, pg 2).  It is good to see that this brother in the faith is "convinced" because his statement is a precise reflection of Jesus' prayer "not only on behalf of these [who are with Me now], but also on behalf of those who will believe in Me through their word, that they may all be one ... so that the world may believe that You have sent Me" (John 17:20, 21).  Our Lord's prayer for the Church.

It is true that the current secular culture "perceives Christians as judgmental, angry, self-righteous, and defined by a political agenda" as this writer states because on a very grand scale, this is what the Church has become - primarily because we have discovered it is much easier to support a Political Action Committee (though we Methodists prefer to call it the "General Board of Church and Society") that will go to our institutions of government in our behalf and try to force political solutions to what are clearly moral problems.  Abortion, homosexual marriage, and prayer in public schools are just a few of the issues we see as "very significant"; and the only solution we seem to be able to find to these problems and many others is to shake our collective fist angrily at whomever we have been told to blame - and then blame it on the devil.

If only it were that easy.  Because we should be able to see through Jesus' prayer that He is not praying that the devil be contained - rather our Lord is praying that the CHURCH NOT BE CONTAINED!  He is praying that His disciples - then and now - will come together in common love and common purpose to do much more than to simply point out the things that are wrong.  The prayer of our Lord is that the purpose of His Church - the "Church" being defined as true, full-time disciples - will work to build up rather than to tear down.  In light of Jesus' prayer, then, we should be compelled to ask: How are we doing so far?

How we are doing depends entirely on how we understand the "way of Jesus".  Many Christians understand the "way of Jesus" as a strict moral code.  Well, there is IMHO always a strict moral code; however, there is not only a strict moral code.  The "way of Jesus" cannot be strictly defined by what we can or cannot do.  The "way of Jesus" is not strictly about "grace" for forgiveness of sins from which we refuse to repent.  The "way of Jesus" is not strictly about proclaiming the Gospel - but is also about helping others to make that Gospel make sense in a world that is, in fact, hostile to the Gospel.  One of the most profound statements I've heard in a long time stated this very clearly: "We face a danger; as we seek to 'make the Gospel relevant', we may overlook the fact that it already is" (Pujic, "Ministry", May 2013, pg 14).

This hostility, however, is not strictly a 21st-century problem; and it was not a problem that started only when Jesus began His ministry.  This hostility goes back to ancient Israel and the Exodus and extends through the kings of what soon became a divided - rather than a united - people in God, continued through the prophets who faithfully - and at great personal risk - tried to draw Israel and Judah back to the Holy God, and finally came to a head in the Exile when they lost everything.  It was at this time when the people who constantly rebelled against the Most High God finally got exactly what they were asking for the whole time: the shackles and chains of hostile cultures rather than the God-given freedom they had previously enjoyed.

The truth is we will get it wrong more often than we will get it right whenever we try to force or coerce allegiance to God through Messiah with the threat of hellfire.  And if we offer the Gospel of our Lord without the mutual accountability of discipleship (that is, doing the work necessary for unity in Christ), we will still get it wrong even with our noble intentions to make our Lord known to the world - because to only proclaim the Gospel is giving the world something to hear.  To fail to follow this up in the mutual accountability of discipleship and fellowship, however, is giving them nothing to see.  

Has our Lord's prayer been in vain?  Was He asking for the impossible?  Was He asking the Holy Father to "force" disciples to be united in the Word; that is, united in Messiah?  No.  Jesus was then, and still is now, praying that we live according to what we claim to believe "so that the world may believe".  He is praying that we work harder to more fully understand the "way of Jesus" - the way that goes all the way to the Cross not with fear but with compassion for those who will persecute us - AND - with the sense of purpose that there will be those who will come to believe because we are united with them in discipleship - not merely "in spirit", sharing their burdens at great personal risk - THAT is the "way of Jesus". 

It is a pretty tall order, and we should not fall into the false promise that it will somehow become easier over time.  There will always be those hostile forces who do not want to hear it, those hostile forces that will sometimes go to extreme measures to try and silence us.  If we allow these forces to manipulate us in doing their bidding and keep silent, then yes - Jesus' prayer was, and is, in vain.

If we persevere in discipleship and a common sense of purpose in Christ, however, something greater will come sooner or later: Eternal Life revealed in the hope of the Resurrection.  This is our Lord's prayer.  Let it be as You will, O Lord our God, in the name of the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit.  Amen.     

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

A Thought for Tuesday 5/7/13

“My eyes are upon You, O God the Lord; in You I take refuge.  Do not leave my soul destitute.  Keep me from the snares they have laid for me, and from the traps of the workers of iniquity.  Let the wicked fall into their own nets while I escape safely.”  Psalm 141:8-10

Our culture is like a powerful drug in that once we take a small taste of it, it is very difficult to turn back.  In fact the more we partake, the more we want until we finally discover that “more” according to our cultural standards seems to have no limits – and yet there is only so much we can actually have even though we reach desperately for “more”, refusing to believe there are limits.  We find ourselves trapped in a sense of entitlement and begin demanding “rights” we don’t actually have.  Soon we discover the “more” is actually just out of reach beyond a cliff and yet it seems so close, we reach over the edge of that cliff.  Sometimes we come to our senses before we completely lose our balance and come back to solid ground.  Too many, however, simply fall, mistaking the risk of reaching too far as “faith” when in fact we are only putting our Lord to the test.  When we fall for the things that are not of God, we are left “destitute” financially as well as emotionally and spiritually when we finally go completely over the edge of that cliff.  There is no “net” that protects if we go over; it is rather a “net” that captures and ensnares.

It is safe to say the evil one is wrapped up in everything in our culture that does not convey the reality of our God and His Law even though the evil one seems to try and convince us that every desire and seemingly natural impulse we have (lust) are to be fulfilled because, after all, will our Lord lead us into temptation and wrong things?  No, our God will not.  Having been set free by Messiah to worship and serve our Holy Father, however, we fail to understand our newfound freedom much like ancient Israel in the wilderness.  We convince ourselves that we are set free from ALL sin – past, present, and future – and that everything we choose to do is somehow blessed by God from that moment of justification before Him.  The Scriptures do not bear this out, and neither does the Spirit.  And lest we forget, Messiah Jesus is the “word made flesh”; that is, Messiah is the “Law and the prophets fulfilled”, not dismissed.  And the “Word” is the Scriptures.  When we say we trust Jesus, we must understand what “Jesus” really means; for if He is not the “Word” of God, He cannot be the Son of God.  Thus He cannot be “Savior”.

We must learn to more fully trust in our Lord by respecting boundaries He has established for our well-being and safety, and also learn that our Lord does not lead us to the edge of any cliff in which our lives may be in danger.  He is our protector and our shield, but He cannot be redefined according to a culture that only entices us to move away from that shield.  Trust in the Lord alone as He is revealed in the Scriptures, and “let the wicked fall into their own nets”!


Monday, May 06, 2013

The Next Step

Matthew 10:5-20

“To laugh - is to risk [looking like] a fool. To [cry] - is to risk being called sentimental. To place your ideas and dreams before a crowd is to risk their loss.  To love - is to risk not being loved in return.  To try - is to risk failure; but risks must be taken because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing at all.” William Ward

We often have grand ideas about sticking our necks out for something with the expectation that it will work out "if God wills it" or if we plan carefully, but even then we often hold back a substantial part of ourselves for lack of a guarantee, some reasonable assurance that the potential reward will outweigh any risk - failing as we do to appreciate the value and reward of we only think of as failure!  As some of this nation's greatest entrepreneurs have discovered, God's will is not always aligned with our own will or our understanding of what "success" really means, that their greatest sources of achievement came at great risk and substantial loss. 

Yet failure is not only the inherent risk of any endeavor but is perhaps also a necessary rite of passage because hard lessons, even those that break our hearts, will ultimately produce much more in the long run than when everything just seems to work out.  It is why inherited wealth or a sudden lottery jackpot are often much more a curse than a blessing because the acquisition of that wealth required no sacrifice, no discipline, certainly no hard work - though the "hard lessons" will come soon enough.  By that time, however, it may be too late - and the wealth long gone, and they find themselves worse off than before. 

Every successful journey involves risk, and risk always produces bumps and bruises - like learning to ride a bicycle!  How many of us would even know how to ride a bicycle if we quit after the first skinned knee, reasoning that the skinned knee as a "failure" indicates that it cannot be done?? 

Ministry is no different, particularly in outreach and evangelism, those "compartmentalized" efforts of the church that are more misunderstood than appreciated for their value.  Many churches have tried the door-to-door approach to ministry by reaching out to neighbors, ringing doorbells, shaking hands, passing out fliers, and trying to encourage these neighbors to visit the church.  One thing these ministers have learned over time is that in order to get just one visitor, they must be willing to knock on 100 doors.  Our Mormon and Jehovah's Witnesses friends have discovered (as they have told me) that to reach just one lost soul, they must be willing to be cursed and spit on by at least 500 "Christians"!  See what I mean about "compartmentalized" ministry, when we "Christians" fail to understand that our work and witness in Christ is our daily living?  Our worship is Sunday, but our "work" is Monday-Saturday!

Still, these door-to-door ministers understand this kind of outreach is no easy task and comes with no guaranteed success - at least as we measure success.  They have endured many more failures than they have successes, and yet they persevere.  Why?  Why would anyone put themselves through this kind of nonsense that has no visible, tangible reward?  They endure, first of all, because they care about and appreciate the mission itself for what it is.  They endure, secondly, because they choose to see past the failure.

The so-called "mainline" denominations might give it a shot every few years, but there is no real excitement or commitment about doing it because they remember the failures of past efforts and lose sight (assuming they ever had a vision!) of why such efforts are to be made in the first place.  We write off the "failed" efforts of the past as hard lessons learned, another "thing" that just will not work, another failed idea.  So our neighbors never hear from us again, and we're ok with that because a) we think we've done the "Lord's work", and b) we reason amongst ourselves that "at least they know where we are" should they change their minds and decide to pay us a visit.

The point is not whether knocking on doors - or any other particular effort - will work because it is not about the work itself; it is about what we intend to accomplish and why we work in the first place that should motivate us and drive us to excellence.  It is the very essence of discipleship, of discovery.  We must learn to look through the inevitable failures, not ignore them and certainly never surrender to them.  For it is as St. Paul wrote to the Romans: "We boast in our sufferings (what we may think of as "failures"), knowing that suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, character produces hope ... and hope does not disappoint" (Romans 5:3-5)

Well, that all depends on where our hope lies.  It all depends on what we hope for.  We do always hope for something, but we cannot say our hope is always fulfilled.  And because our hope is often misplaced, we fail to appreciate the blessing it can be that we do not always get what we think we want.  Thus we never, never, EVER think to give thanks to our Lord for the adversity we will inevitably face if we choose to take risks.

Jesus assured His disciples of one thing: You will be dragged before ... councils and synagogues and governors and kings - and beaten - because of Me.  Now we can clearly see the disciples are being sent on a particular mission to do a particular thing, but here is where our own hope in such efforts loses sight of the actual mission.  WE think the mission is to increase the size of the Church, but Jesus says this is the mission: "Proclaim the Good News".  It would appear that Jesus' instructions are being given to prepare the disciples for what is ahead, but I think we must look at the mission itself as the "preparation" for other things to come - like the day when our Lord will no longer be there to instruct us. 

We embark on any mission with a goal in mind.  We have plans to achieve these goals, but we fail to understand in our efforts that our plans must never be ours and our goals must never be "compartmentalized" to the extent that we put "religious stuff" over here and "secular stuff" over there.  Assuming we are genuine, baptized disciples of Messiah seeking the Face of God, everything we do can only be in one, single category: our lives; and the "mission" can only be one thing regardless of what we intend to accomplish.

Jesus says success is found by "those who lose their life for My sake" (Mt 10:39), for it is only then when our true and lasting life will ultimately be found, when we give up the life we only think is real.  Here again, however, is the danger of "compartmentalizing" our lives; we think Jesus is referring ONLY to physical death. 

Yet we should see that we face adversity in religion and even in living a secular life of faith because the life we are called to lead is the polar opposite of what the world expects and demands (remember Jesus says, "The world hated Me first").  So we tend to view "failure" as a sign from Above that we are going in the wrong direction according to how the world responds to us, but we do not come to this conclusion as a result of a focused and intentional life devoted to prayer and discipleship; we draw this conclusion based on our own standards of achievement.

Our "next step", then, cannot be determined by a sermon, nor by a few hand-selected verses of Scripture, nor by a prayer "here and there" like when we don't get our own way, and certainly not by human desire or human measures of achievement.  For you see, whether we are taking our next steps into the greater world from high school, from college, or from this very moment in worship it is not about "achievement" - it is about "priorities".  "Seek first the Kingdom of God - THEN - all these things [the necessities of life] will be added to you".    

In the name of the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

A Thought for Monday 5/6/13

“You shall do no injustice in judgment.  You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty.  In righteousness you shall judge your neighbor.”  Leviticus 19:15

Without a working knowledge of the ancient languages, it is a challenge to ascertain the difference between this mandate to “judge your neighbor” and Jesus’ admonishment to “judge not, lest you be judged”.  Because of this confusion, we do our best to refrain from judging at all “lest we be judged”.  This is not biblical love, however, to turn a blind eye to our neighbor’s intent on doing harm to himself AND ultimately to those around him; it is better described as “neglect” when we choose to say nothing at all.  If we can clearly see the spiritual, emotional, mental, or physical harm being done in the present and in the long-term, how can we remain silent?  It is as the saying goes, “In order for evil to triumph, it is necessary that good people remain silent.” 

Clearly we must discern between good and evil each and every day just as we teach our children right from wrong, and we do this because we love our children and want them to have good lives.  Is there any less to love when it involves our “neighbor”?  “He who hates his brother [or neighbor] is in darkness and walks in darkness and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes” (1 John 3:11).  “Hate” in this context does not denote active attempts to do harm; rather “neglect” is inferred when we see someone doing harm and committing sin and not caring enough to do something.

There is a strict admonition in the levitical law that judgment must be done “in righteousness”; that is, according to what is just and right.  No special treatment for “the poor” and certainly no special honor to “the mighty” (the powerful, the rich).  “Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4).  So we know right from wrong according to what is written in the Scriptures; St. John and other New Testament writers attest to this reality.  So if we find ourselves confused as to what is right or what is wrong, it is because we are trying to make a judgment according to our culture and our own desires and not according to our Lord.

All this is what it means to live in community with one another; to look after one another, to hold one another accountable, and to support one another when the world threatens to overwhelm us.  We have been given a great gift in everlasting life.  Let us support one another now as if we truly believe it.