Thursday, July 18, 2013

Are the Nones really all that?

Are the so-called "Nones" really a force for the Church to reckon with?  This is that group of 18-29 year-olds (roughly comprising 20% of the US population) who have distanced themselves from the Church and from religion in general.  Whether they consider themselves to be believers would depend entirely upon what they are asked to believe.  Many of these consider themselves "spiritual but not religious" and thus feel justified in distancing themselves from formal worship and the fellowship of the Church.  In the political realm their electoral potency is not to be underestimated as they were a significant factor in getting President Obama reelected.  As the Church goes, however, there is much more at stake than a mere presidential election.

The Church in general, and Protestants in particular (right or wrong, Catholics and Eastern Orthodox continue to stand their doctrinal ground), have perhaps become a little too concerned with this seeming "lost generation", to that generation's general amusement and perhaps to the detriment of the Church's character and integrity.  That the Church should always be concerned with the "lost" regardless of their demographic is without question as this is precisely the mission of the Church.  That is, the Church is to consider all who are absent from the Church to be afflicted to some degree and must be willing to minister to them and with them where they are, wherever they may be.  Go to them, we must, until we are finally told to take a long walk on a short pier.  Then we "shake the dust off", as our Lord commands, not in spite but in reality.  We are being told in no uncertain terms that we have gone as far with them as we will be allowed to go.  But the Church, the Body of Christ, never really goes completely away. 

In this quest to recapture the lost youth and young adults, however, much of what the Church stands for has been lost or substantially glossed over and watered down, and the Church has made too many compromises with and initiated "magic spells" (cheap grace) within the greater secular culture in a vain effort to remain (or become) "relevant" to secularism.  By its very nature the Church can never be relevant to secularism; the Church must be relevant first to its Divine Nature, missional calling, and commitment to our Lord's Great Commission.  Lose this, and the Church has lost much more than a demographic.  She as the Divine Bride stands to lose everything, including the Bridegroom (Revelation 2:4).

I would suggest the Church has lost these "Nones" precisely by trying to play to them and their fickle demands, like the new kid in school willing to sacrifice integrity for the sake of popularity.  Make no mistake; these "Nones" are savvy and worldly enough to know when they are being played - especially when the Church claims to "know" something (doctrine) that has been known, believed, and articulated for several thousand years but is suddenly willing to rethink or play down, under the duress of membership or worship attendance loss, something that has sustained and grown the Church for 2000 years.

Clearly the "world" is going in a thousand different directions and has no clear idea of exactly where it is going or how it is going to get there.  The Church, on the other hand, is supposed to know something greater, something more enduring, simpler and much more appealing than the mantra of that chaos which is "enough is never enough".  The Church must never be comfortable or even friendly with a culture that murders its own young, mates with whomever (or whatever) will lay still, and has no concept of what "home" and the value of children or the sanctity of marriage is really about.  Try to keep up with the latest fad?  Even 15-year-old teenagers have a difficult time keeping up; how can the Church possibly think it can ... or even should?

The "Nones" are smart enough to know that sooner or later, the game of chasing one's tail can never really come to a satisfactory conclusion; they may, however, be arrogant enough to believe it will somehow be different with them.  When they tire and grow weary - and they will - and when they have finally bitten themselves in their own back sides - and they will - the Church in her faithfulness will have planted sufficient seeds within these angry and lost hearts and minds, and after they are beaten down they will eventually find their way "home" like the Prodigal.  The task falls upon the Church to make sure we are still here when they do finally come to their spiritual senses.  And like the story of the Prodigal, the Church must be ready, willing, and eager to run out to greet these who return not with an "I told you so" but with the new ring and coat and the fatted calf being made ready - for then the Feast will be upon us.  And they will know what they have known in the backs of their minds all along: "I am the Lord; I do not change".  Thank God this is so!  Now may the Church be so.      

A Thought for Thursday 7/18/13

“Our life always expresses the result of our dominant thoughts.”  Soren Kierkegaard

This is a good way to begin taking stock of our lives to determine what we do and why; evaluating our “dominant thoughts”.  It does not take a professional therapist to help us to break down and analyze the lives we’ve chosen to lead.  Jesus said, “Out of the mouth comes the abundance of the heart”, so even the words we speak have a way of revealing what is truly within us; whether divine love bestowed or bitterness, envy, resentment, or downright hatred we inevitably bestow on others.

What is the first thing done when awakened?  Do we praise the Lord for the beginning of a new day, offer Him a prayer of thanksgiving for what could potentially become the very best day of our lives?  Or do we curse the morning sun?  Or the job that awaits us?  There in that choice alone may begin to reveal something of our “dominant thoughts”.  When we sit for a prepared meal, do we curse the “chicken again??” – or are we mindful of the incredible gift that meal truly represents especially when we know there are many who will not even have a meal? 

Though we cannot always keep our minds from wandering when we are engaged in mundane tasks, we do ultimately have control over our thoughts, and our thoughts are directly related to what we are most often exposed to, what we read, what we listen to, who we keep company with.

Today is a new day and yet is still that very day “which the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it”.  If this is our dominant thought, we are off to a good start.  If not, we must start over because it is not simply a curse we bring upon ourselves and the day; it is failing to rejoice in the moments given to us for the fullest life possible in our Lord and His Covenant.  Today is your day because it is our Father’s Day.  Rejoice and be glad!



Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A Thought for Tuesday 7/16/13

“Thus says the Lord, ‘Keep justice, and do righteousness, for My salvation is about to come, and My righteousness to be revealed.  Blessed is the one who does this, and the children of those who lay hold on it, who keeps from defiling the Sabbath and keeps their hands from doing any evil.”  Isaiah 56:1-2

It was traditionally understood that while Gentiles (non-Jewish people) were to be treated justly by the Jews, it was also understood that Gentiles could never really have a place in Israel.  This promise spoken through the prophet, however, reveals the Almighty with a heart for “all nations” (vs 7e), all who “keep justice and do righteousness … all who keep from defiling the Sabbath”.

This is an important word for the Church today just as it was for the Israelite nation which was in exile as a result of having continually offended the Lord, violated His Law, and mistreated their “neighbors”.  The Church still has the same charge the Lord expected from His nation: to proclaim His holy name to “all nations” and to all people.  Failure to embrace this Holy Charge will bring consequences just as Israel was suffering those consequences.

This does not mean we need worry ourselves about trying to repackage the Gospel or water down the Law of the Lord to appeal to a new generation, or try to find new meaning for ageless wisdom.  Rather it means we are to find our own vocation as the Body of Christ, and reconnect to the Scriptures so that as we are proclaiming the Name, we do not mislead our neighbors or misrepresent our Lord.

Yes, believe in the Lord our God.  Yes, believe His promises.  Yes, believe He can and will forgive the worst of our offenses if we truly repent and turn to Him.  But also believe that justice, righteousness, and mercy (works of piety) are all necessary fruits of that belief, that faith.  These are truly the fruits others will find sweet enough to partake of for themselves, but they will never eat what they are never offered.  And like you or me, they will not accept an offer of rotted fruit unless they are starving and rotted is all that is being offered.  They will not be nourished, however; they will be sickened.  Thus they will not come back for more.

If we really want to see a nation living by biblical principles, it falls upon us to live these biblical principles, to be our “neighbor’s” keeper and not our “neighbor’s” warden.  Quoting a few key phrases will never work if we do not understand its context or application – and there is a lot of that going around especially within the Church.  Worse than rotted fruit, that is a lot like offering a whole lot of green plums; it won’t kill, but it will sicken because the fruit was not properly seasoned, not yet ripe and ready for consumption.

We have the fullness of the Word which is in Messiah, and He has shown us all that is good.  So let us live the good for our neighbors in our Lord.



Monday, July 15, 2013

Trial of the Century

I did not watch or read about every moment of the George Zimmerman trial and did not sit on the jury, so there is much I do not know about what evidence the jury actually possessed to come to their decision to acquit.  News reports suggest there was too much doubt to convict - a standard in our system of justice.  And even though George Zimmerman has been declared "not guilty" of 2nd degree murder or manslaughter, it would be a stretch to say he is completely innocent.

As a result of the acquittal (obviously the verdict they did not want), the NAACP has petitioned the US Department of Justice to consider civil rights charges against George Zimmerman because of the implications that Zimmerman's action against Trayvon Martin was racially motivated, that Zimmerman would not have followed a white kid in the same manner, all things being equal.  As much of a stretch as that accusation usually is, it is reported by Fox News that the FBI had already been involved in the investigation and had determined there were no racial factors evident.  The FBI determined the reason an "overzealous" Zimmerman "profiled" Martin not because of the color of his skin but because of what Martin was wearing.  Martin was "profiled" according to "previous burglary suspects in the community"; gang members who, according to Sanford police detective Chris Serino, typically dress in black attire and wear hoodies pulled over their heads (to hide their identities?).  Consider this hidden identity under a long-sleeved hoodie pulled over the head and wearing long pants, how could Zimmerman have identified a "black" person?  Again, there is much we do not know.

Frankly I am not sure how to feel about the outcome.  Martin was not caught in the commission of a crime.  I am a gun man and a former Marine rated as a rifle and pistol expert and I embrace the fundamentals of the 2nd Amendment, but I am extremely uncomfortable with too many armed citizens who lack appropriate respect for the destructive power of firearms, have not been sufficiently trained, or seriously vetted to carry a deadly weapon.  Case in point: the church I serve had a serious leak in the roof from which water cascaded down an interior wall during a rain.  A roof inspector found a bullet hole in the roof from the top side, indicating some fool fired a weapon into the air never considering that what goes up will soon come down.  Judging by the size of the hole in the roof, it was pretty close to a .45 caliber.  I am only thankful the bullet landed on the church's roof and not through the head of any of the young children who live right across the street!!

Extremely poor judgment absent any forethought, and this fool could likely qualify for a concealed carry permit in Arkansas to carry that same weapon!  This is the nature of the poor judgment that compelled George Zimmerman, as part of a neighborhood "watch" team, to get out of his car - armed - after the police dispatcher had advised him not to pursue.  Zimmerman did what he was expected to do initially: he reported a suspicious character wearing "gang attire" (according to the FBI's findings) to the local police, but his extreme misjudgment in his decision to follow the person (lack of forethought) led to this moment when the entire nation is actually "on trial".

Ancient wisdom proclaims that "an angry person stirs up strife, and a furious person abounds in transgression" (Book of Proverbs 29:22).  This concept has nothing to do with religion; it is a philosophy which recognizes that human emotions often compel us to act irrationally.  Such is the case with this whole Zimmerman trial and angry words from both "sides" before, during, and after the trial; words from across the nation from people who are not directly involved in this case but who have convinced themselves they have a stake in its outcome. 

Because the nation (both sides) seems so angry or sees some perverted need to be angry, "strife" and "transgression" are sure to come - not because the Zimmerman jury decided justly or unjustly but because this trial has come to reflect and represent a nation's frustrations.  Gangs run rampant through our streets and overtake entire neighborhoods leaving innocent citizens virtual prisoners in their own homes - and not safe even then as we recall reports of drive-by shootings that have left young children dead in their own beds due to bullets penetrating their once-believed "safe" walls.  The police cannot always be where we think they need when we think they need to be there because they cover a lot of ground with relatively few resources, and they can actually do very little until a crime has already been committed.

Of course we are angry, frustrated, and more than a little afraid for the safety and well-being of our loved ones!  We would like to be so bold as to take some decisive action to stem the apparent tide of lawlessness, and maybe we would not mind being hailed as a home-town hero for saving the day.  We watch a government seemingly more concerned with the civil rights of criminals while our civil rights to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" seem substantially stunted or outright shunned.  Make no mistake, however; George Zimmerman is no hero even as he is a reflection of our frustrations and fears.  He has become as much a victim as Trayvon Martin was.  George Zimmerman is us, and our anger and frustrations are still on trial and will be for years to come.    

A Thought for Monday 7/15/13

“You who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, Messiah has now reconciled in His fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before Him – provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the Gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven.”  Colossians 1:21-23

Clearly before we have done anything, our Lord already took an extreme measure – His own death – in order that we may be reconciled to the Holy Father.  This divine love is unconditional; otherwise Jesus would have sought to put something else in place before He would allow Himself to be arrested, let alone crucified.  But He did not do this because His love is without condition even as you and I do for those we love – expecting nothing in return but doing it only to express our love. 

Our part in response to this divine love, however, is to accept it, but our acceptance goes far beyond an intellectual acknowledgement; it requires an acceptance on the Lord’s terms as spelled out in the Holy Scriptures.  Our response is to be in mind AND body AND soul; that is, “the faith” to which St. Paul refers is the religion by which we “continue securely … and steadfast … without shifting from the hope”.  Though divine love is without condition, our necessary response does have conditions – “provided that you continue … in the faith”.  St. Paul is not referring to a promise to always believe the Crucifixion actually happened; he is requiring that our response will be within the conditions of the Covenant, the Lord’s terms and not our own; expressing our love with all we have and with all we are - unconditionally.  In other words, we cannot continue to live like the devil, to “cast pearls before swine” (to try and call our own sins “good”) and expect to have a part in the Kingdom, which is the hope for the “promise” of the Gospel.

Let us embrace the Promise that has been made for all eternity, for it truly is ours to embrace … or walk away from.  Yet it is always for us to remember what the Lord spoke to His prophet Ezekiel (18:23): “Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die … and not that the wicked should turn from their ways and live?”  Our Lord has eternally had His desire that all should turn to Him (repent) and live.  It is no less so today for even the worst among us.  Do any of us really believe our sins are too big for Him to overcome by His death and resurrection?  So awful that He will not forgive?  Forbid it, Lord!



Thursday, July 11, 2013

A Thought for Thursday 7/11/13

“Do not busy yourself with many matters; if you multiply activities, you will not be held blameless.  If you pursue, you will not overtake, and by fleeing you will not escape.  There are those who work and struggle and hurry, but are so much the more in want.”  Sirach 11:10-11

Not only has “multi-tasking” been shown to be largely a myth, but it may do a job seeker well to consider that a prospective employer who requires “multi-tasking” as part of a job description may be one to avoid because of the wisdom of Sirach in which “those who work AND struggle AND hurry … will be left in want”; that is, lacking in every actually catching up, never quite accomplishing what needs to be accomplished, never quite satisfying the employer and thus always being under undue pressure for fear of losing the job that was set with impossible standards to begin with!

Our daily living is no less worthy of consideration in “multiple activities” in which we will “not be held blameless”.  Understand, however, that the “blame” is not in the “multiple activities” in and of themselves; rather the blame is in the neglected activities that truly require our undivided attention.  In our United Methodist tradition, it is the means of grace that require our devotion and undivided attention.  These are those ways by which we connect and stay connected to our Lord; in prayer, in Scripture study, in fasting, in worship, in attending to the Sacraments of the Church.  We neglect these to our own destruction by pursuing those other things we will never “overtake”; the things which will always leave us in “much more in want”.

Let discipleship be the one thing we pursue with all due diligence.  Let us first be found in the Lord, then (if we trust our Lord) He will show us the way in which we must go.  “Seek first the kingdom of God, then all these things [you need] will be added to you”, says our Lord Messiah Jesus.



Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A Thought for Wednesday 7/10/13

“Let those who are friendly with you be many, but let your advisers be one in a thousand.  When you gain friends, gain them through testing, and do not trust them hastily.  For there are friends who are such when it suits them, but they will not stand by you in time of trouble.  And there are friends who change into enemies, and tell of the quarrel to your disgrace.  And there are friends who sit at your table, but they will not stand by you in time of trouble.  When you are prosperous, they become your second self and lord it over your servants; but if you are brought low, they turn against you and hide themselves from you.  Keep away from your enemies, and be on guard with your friends ... Faithful friends are life-saving medicine, and those who fear the Lord will find them.”  Sirach 6:6-13, 16

Jesus Himself also teaches that “out of the mouth comes the abundance of the heart” – AND – “you will know them by their fruits”.  This passage speaks pretty clearly for itself, but verse 16 pulls us away from worrying too much about having a wide circle of friends and reminds us that “those who fear the Lord will find [friends]”; that is, real friends.  Something must come first; a real relationship with the Lord in prayer, in fasting, in Scripture study, in worship, and in fellowship with “real” disciples.  There will the friends be found, those who share something much more profound than mere “life experiences”.  Sharing in the faith and enduring in the faith are where real friends will be finally and completely tested; it is no more or less so than preparing for marriage.  If we let our emotions run away with our minds, it is almost a given that disaster and disappointment are waiting because we did not “gain [these friends] through testing”; the trials and tribulations of life.

We all have “associates” and we all have “acquaintances”, but those who can be truly called “friend” may be far and few.  It’s ok, though; better to have one true friend (“one in a thousand”) than many who cannot be trusted.  The people of the Church, the Body of Christ, must necessarily be among the “few” whom others can trust.  We are the heart and soul of Messiah; and if others cannot trust us as we claim to be one with Messiah, how can they learn to trust Messiah?

Let us be found faithful and true, for these are the heart and soul of our salvation in the Lord.



Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

The term "forward sweep" is a military term also used by the United States Secret Service in checking ("sweeping") an area before a dignitary under their protection will be allowed to enter into that area.  The purpose is to make sure the area is, or can be made to be, the safest environment possible for maximum protection of those in their protective charge.

I hesitate to use that term in the context of the disciples who were sent by Jesus to "every town ... where [Jesus] intended to go" since they were clearly not being sent for the sake of our Lord's protection; yet Jesus sent these many "ahead" to "every town where He intended to go" for a clear "sweeping" purpose.  Could it be that perhaps those places that "do not welcome" the disciples would become places where Jesus Himself would not bother going, especially as He says, "Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects Me ..."  After all, if these will not at least welcome the messenger, why expect they will care anything about the Message?

I will grant there are some clergy who believe this passage - coupled with a few others - grants substantial authority.  I agree, but only to a point.  As I have shared before, I do not claim to be any kind of "authority" of myself; I serve under that authority granted to the office I serve by the bishop of Arkansas and the Discipline of the United Methodist Church.  The point of authority is not about who is "in charge"; the point of authority is about how it is used, and to what end. 

Even from the time of the Reformation, the question has been asked often: if the clergy performing the duties of the office (particularly the Sacraments) is in a state of sin, does he (or she) lack sufficient authority to perform those duties?  Are the Sacraments rendered null and void?  Can the duties even be "sacramental" if the clergy is less-than-worthy?  Here, I think, is the final consensus: NO MORTAL BEING is "worthy" of the Sacraments of the Church, yet no mortal being - however unworthy - can shorten the Lord's Hand!  That is, no mortal being can withhold the Sacraments of the Church.  So the "authority" under which the disciples were acting, then, had very little to do with their own state of worthiness - yet perhaps everything to do with their state of willingness.

Connect that willingness to "go" to a willingness to "welcome" and at least listen respectfully, and there then is a bountiful harvest waiting for sufficient laborers to see to the task at hand; and as Jesus states, "The harvest is plentiful ... but the laborers are few".  On the other hand, take a willing worker and throw that willing worker into a field of unwilling, unwelcoming, close-minded, hateful people - and there will be a crop that will rot in the field and finally be burned by the sun because if the worker will not be welcomed, there is no reason to believe Jesus would be any more welcome.  Think of it in Jesus' own words: "Whatever you do to these, you do to Me". 

The essence of this passage, however, cannot be adequately compared to the parable of the Wheat and the Weeds (Mt 13:24-30) by which the "willing worker" would decide which are "wheat" and which are "weeds" since they look so much alike - as do people.  We are not equipped to tell the difference between who is worthy and who is unworthy nor are we called to do so.  This makes me think of an Irish blessing that goes: May those who love us love us; and those who don't love us may the Lord turn their hearts.  And if He does not turn their hearts, may He turn their ankles so we'll know them by their limping.

Even then it can be dangerous for us to decide who is worthy of the Message - or who will welcome us or reject us before we've even given them a chance.  When (not if) we are sent - and we are all sent in some form or fashion by virtue of our baptism and/or confirmation and the vows we take - we are sent not to judge but to proclaim.  This task is so important that when Jesus gave instructions to His disciples, they were told, among other things, to "greet no one on the road" (Lk 10:4).  The 4th-century archbishop, Aurelius Ambrosius, compared this gospel passage to 2 Kings 4:29 in which Alisha's disciple, Gehazi, was sent on a mission to heal a child with these instructions from the prophet: "If you meet anyone, do not greet him; and if anyone greets you, do not answer him ..."

St. Ambrose' lesson warns of a clear danger in distraction: "lest he be turned from the duty laid upon him by conversation with someone along the way.  The zeal of greeting is not taken away here, but an obstacle ... is removed.  When divine commands are given, human obligations are surrendered for a little while.  Salutation is fine, but the performance of duties to the Lord is finer because it is more fitting.  Hindrance of these duties has often brought offenses.  Even honorable acts are prohibited, for fear that the grace of ceremony deceive and hinder the ministry of the task, the delay of [which is in itself] sinful" (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, NT III, pg 172, 173).

It may sound rather cold and distant, but maybe we should think of such strict "marching orders" in the vein of Divine Will revealed in prayer.  Can we devote ourselves to serious prayer on any level if we are constantly distracted?  Of course not; no more than we can have a serious conversation with anyone who, for instance, is constantly checking their cell phones for messages.  In those moments we are being told, however subconsciously, that we are not important to them; they're not listening, so there is no "conversation" happening.  I know many people have convinced themselves they are "multi-taskers", but that notion of being able to do several things at once - and do them all well - has been largely debunked as little more than a myth.  We can DO "at" several things maybe well enough to get by, but we will not do them all well; maybe none of them.

So Jesus is establishing priorities for His disciples before He sends them out; and the #1 priority is the Gospel, the Good News, the Message that "the Kingdom of God has come near" (Lk 10:11).  Notice also that for those who "do not welcome" a messenger sent by Messiah, this is also bad news: "the Kingdom of God has come near" ... and you missed it ... because you rejected the messenger ... therefore you rejected the Message!

In this modern age there are a lot of "Christians" who are not "disciples" because they have largely rejected the Messenger which is the Church, the "ecclesia", the assembly of the faithful - AND - they have largely rejected the written Word because they never read or study the Scriptures.  For good or bad these so-called "nones" who have rejected the authority of the Church or who have rejected the notion of "organized religion" have in fact rejected the many "messengers" who have been sent.  These who reject may have their reasons, but so did those whom Jesus said would reject the disciples then.  And our Lord's message was - and is - the very same.  There is no reason to think it would somehow be different today.

It is unfortunate, however, that too many of the Church have decided they are better suited to "judge" than to "proclaim".  Sometimes the hard Word is the call to repentance met by many who see no need to repent, but sometimes the Church makes demands - like the Judaizers of St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians - that are more burdensome than our Lord requires.

The "message" of the Church is the Gospel; the Good News of our Lord.  It is fitting that we remember this constantly, but it is also useful for us to remember that the task of discipleship must never be incidental to the lives we have chosen to lead.  Discipleship is indeed a way of life and a way of living and doing and being, but discipleship is also purposeful in and of itself.  Even today the Church is called forth and set apart to continually offer "Peace" to every house we come to - not just those who come to us.  And our "marching orders" are the same now as then: let peace rest on the house that "welcomes" us, and take our peace with us when we are asked to leave.

Especially with the intentionality of discipleship, we are compelled to think of what it is we are offering to those we encounter - if we bother to "offer" at all: Did we truly offer that the Kingdom of Heaven has come near - or did we show them the gates of hell?  Did we truly offer the Peace of Messiah, or did we thrust upon them the judgment reserved exclusively to our Lord?  The Church is called to be in a constant state of a "forward sweep" operation - that is, "movement" - but what is being accomplished in our "sweep"?  Are we blessing or cursing?  Are we letting Messiah's peace return to us because of their rejection, or are we TAKING Messiah's peace because of our judgments?

It is a common saying that "it is what it is", but this is not our Lord's call and claim.  It must be, rather, what our Lord wills it to be; and the Church is established as the instrument of our Lord's will.  So let it be what He wills, not what "it is".  Otherwise the world can truthfully say on the Day of the Lord that the "messenger" never showed up - even though the church "building" was right around the corner - and the doors were closed to us.   

In the name of the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit.  May this be NOT our judgment.  Amen.

A Thought for Tuesday 7/9/13

“Do not say, ‘I sinned, yet what has happened to me?’, for the Lord is slow to anger.  Do not be so confident of forgiveness that you add sin to sin.  Do not say, ‘His mercy is great, He will forgive the multitude of my sins’, for both mercy and wrath are with Him, and His anger will rest on sinners.”  Sirach 5:4-6

More than any, the believer who has been justified before the Lord must realize not only that more is expected of us because more has been given to us (Luke 12:48); we must surely also be mindful of the power of sin to overtake us especially when we take salvation for granted, assume that our Lord’s divine and eternal love somehow automatically absolves us of sin we continue to live in, and let our guard down.  That love, as expressed in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal, is ever present; but we must turn toward that love in repentance and humility.  This is our embrace that constantly acknowledges the presence and mercy of the Lord.  The Lord does not save us IN our sins; the Lord delivers us FROM all sin!

We have been called to something much greater than the moment we are currently in.  Let us embrace that calling and move into that vocation so that we can show others the way.  “Let your light so shine before all, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in Heaven” (Matthew 5:16).



Monday, July 08, 2013

A Thought for Monday 7/8/13

“My child, when you come to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for testing.  Set your heart right and be steadfast, and do not be impetuous in time of calamity.  Cling to Him and do not depart, so that your last days may be prosperous.  Accept whatever befalls you, and in times of humiliation be patient.  For gold is tested in the fire, and those found acceptable, in the furnace of humiliation.  Trust in Him, and He will help you; make your ways straight, and hope in Him.”  Sirach 2:1-6

If this book reference is unfamiliar to you, it is among the books of the so-called “Apocrypha”.  This is a collection of books regarded by some traditions as authoritative but not are not typically included in Protestant Bibles.  Whether or not the book itself is authoritative is not nearly as important as the value of the book in reflecting the will of the Lord in the Law and the Prophets and speaking of divine wisdom which comes only to those who wait “patiently” with hope, obedience, and intense respect (fear).

This passage strikes me as particularly useful in reminding us of how difficult our first steps in the Lord can be.  Too many traditions today play “getting saved” as easy (actually more closely resembling “abracadabra”), but the writer reminds the new believer that following and serving the Lord (the path of discipleship) will not be easy at all, but that perseverance in the Lord and His ways will come with more than ample rewards: wisdom from On High and the capacity for understanding the Law in its fullest and richest context.

We Christians are reminded that Jesus came to fulfill the Law rather than do away with it, but we typically keep the Law at arm’s length because of a few out-of-context verses written by St. Paul – AND – because we do not try to understand the Law.  The writer is clear, however, as is the writer of the letters to Timothy: the Law and the Prophets ARE the Scriptures and are worthy of our time and effort.  So we must “not only … understand them [ourselves], but must also as lovers of learning (disciples) be able through the spoken and written word to help the outsiders”; that is, those who do not believe (Prologue, Sirach).  This, dear friends, is the key component of what it means to be a disciple.

Let us reconnect with our Lord through His Word and learn wisdom so that we may serve Him more faithfully by serving one another through Messiah, the “word made flesh”.



Wednesday, July 03, 2013

A Thought for Wednesday 7/3/13

“You, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.”  Jude 20-21

Among the basic rules for membership in the United Societies of John Wesley’s day was to “stay in love with God”.  We know that what makes relationships tick above all is constant communication.  St. Jude expresses this very thing in reminding the faithful that we must “build” upon the relationship our Lord has established with His Church.  What strikes me most in this passage, however, is the encouragement to “look for mercy”.  This, I think, is the one thing above all else we should never take for granted, the one thing we must never overlook even as we remember that the essential attribute of our Lord is His mercy.

It is knowing these things of our Lord that encourages a heart filled with faith and joy and enables us to express ourselves in earnest worship not only in the hour of the formal worship service we share with our fellow disciples but also in each waking hour.  Let us hold fast to these things so that we may find the fullness of joy and peace as we continue our journey of discipleship.



Tuesday, July 02, 2013

A Thought for Tuesday 7/2/13

“See that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.  Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”  Ephesians 5:15-17

Especially early in the relationship with our Lord, we will still be inclined to think and act as we always did.  We will still have “evil habits” (Josephus) we have to be on guard against in order to better reflect our calling in discipleship, in following Messiah.  So St. Paul warns the Ephesians that the “evil days” still pose a threat to our spiritual well-being especially when we think and act primarily according to our impulses, our old habits.  Learning more about the Lord of the Church takes time – just think about how big the Bible really is! – a lot of thought, and a lot of prayer.

Too many Christians have been falsely led to believe there is some magical transformation by which sin virtually bounces off and old habits simply fade away without any personal effort.  There are even those who have become convinced either by careless preachers or their own minds that suddenly everything we choose to do is divine will and therefore blessed.  Gossip, idolatry, love of money, greed, spite, hatefulness, etc., are still practices of many who call themselves Christians not because they have evil intent (yet sometimes they do intend to do harm to others they don’t like) but because they fail to “walk circumspectly”, thoughtfully, prayerfully, and in consideration of what is truly divine will according to what is written in the Scriptures.

Like any relationship, it is dangerous to take any component of that relationship for granted and assume everything will always be ok even if no time or effort is put into the relationship.  There are too many among us who can attest to the reality that any relationship will disintegrate if we ignore our part.  Though our Lord is always faithful to His Word, fidelity to the Word is still required of us if there is a “relationship” at all.  This requires work and attention to the reality that the “days are evil” and that we can fall prey to that evil easily if we do not “walk circumspectly”.

Cling to the Word.  Cling to the Church, the “ecclesia”, the assembly of the faithful.  Hold fast to all that is good, and take nothing for granted.



Monday, July 01, 2013

Flesh and spirit: the war within

Galatians 5:1: 13-25
Luke 9:51-62

"Conflict is the beginning of consciousness."  M. Esther Harding

Carl Jung was a Swiss psychotherapist who developed what became known as "analytical psychology" and is also credited with developing the concepts of the extroverted and introverted personalities.  In addition to his work in psychotherapy, his findings and concepts have also been incorporated into religion as well.  Jung was clear, however, that his analytical psychology was not to be mistaken for a new religion, nor did he care to be considered a "guru" of any kind.  He once wrote, "Psychology is concerned with the act of seeing and not with the construction of new religious truths"; he recognizing that religion and faith are more attuned to the things we "cannot see". 

In order to "see" what we "cannot see", however, we probably need to know a little more about ourselves.

St. Paul admonishes the Galatians: "Do not submit again to a yoke of slavery ..." That's very good advice but like the "just say no" campaign of thirty years ago, it does not realistically address the substance of what it means to be truly human.  And it is unfortunate that in order to be truly human, we cannot avoid dealing with the internal conflicts between our "flesh" (who we think we are) and our "spirit" (the essence of what we really are).  We should not be afraid of these conflicts, however, but should instead seek to understand them and how we relate them, as Harding states, as "the beginning of [our own] consciousness" of self; what we desire, what tempts us, what frightens us, what makes us tick. 

"[Jung] did not believe that authentic [religion] was expressed in [purely emotional worship] experiences (emotional responses) [and, incidentally, neither do I nor did St. James: "Pure and undefiled religion is ... to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world"]. Rather Jung advised people to turn towards their fears ...This shadow[of fear] is experienced as an [enemy], but it is really a friend because it contains clues as to what the individual lacks, rejects and distrusts" (

Could it be, then, that "religion", the expression within us just aching for a way to make itself known and which also deeply desires to touch something greater, includes not only turning toward the Almighty but would also include intentionally facing that which potentially binds us or tempts us, recognizing our weaknesses and dealing with them rather than succumbing to them - or worse: mistaking our fleshly impulses with "divine will"?  We might like to believe these things would be those which compel us to act against our own will but we cannot deny that as strong as our "fleshly" impulses can sometimes be, we do ultimately have control over what we do and when we do it - all directly connected to why we would choose to do it (whatever "it" may be).

It is no secret that many have a hard time dealing with St. Paul and his seeming disdain for the Law especially in his conflicting statements in our being "freed" from the Law, not "subject" to the Law, or not "under" the Law - but he nevertheless shamelessly quoting the Law; "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Gal 5:14; Lev 19:18).  The New Testament never suggests we are told "eh, never mind that old law".  "By no means!", St. Paul states often in his writings and responses.  Rather, we are called to understand the difference between how we act (or react) according to the "flesh", and how we are called to act according to the "Spirit".

St. Paul writes, "If you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the Law" (Gal 5:18).  This cannot mean the people of the Lord are excused from obedience to the Law (Deut 8:11-17) since the Law defines the Covenant's terms and defines the faith community's boundaries, nor can we say the Law of the Lord no longer applies to us; what was sinful then is still as sinful now, and what was helpful to our neighbor then is as helpful to our neighbor now.  St. Paul is quite clear in this point: "those who do such things [fornication, idolatry, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, envy, drunkenness, etc] (those things prohibited by the Law) will not inherit the Kingdom of God" (Gal 5:21)

St. Paul is rather observing that love, those acts borne of the Spirit of the Lord, cannot be commanded by a strict legal definition but are rather joyful expressions of a spiritual reality.  What we choose to do according to our free will defines "why" we do what we do.  There are those "works of the flesh" St. Paul defines for the people of Galatia which he then "contrasts" with the "fruit of the Spirit": "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; there is no law against such things" (Gal 5:22, 23).  By that statement that "there is no law against" these things, St. Paul affirms there is still a Law prohibiting those other things.  To say, then, that we are not "subject" to the Law should not be confused with suggesting we are "excused" from the foundational and community principles of the Law.

Jesus states very clearly that evidence of our love for Him is in our obedience to His commandments; and if Jesus is the Holy and Almighty God in the flesh, then His commandments are not strictly those attributed only to the New Testament.  Just as Jesus reiterates the "greatest commandments" in quoting from Deuteronomy and Leviticus, then, Jesus affirms the Law and its positive impact on the life of the Faith Community.  St. Paul expresses an act of love in willful and joyful obedience rather than a strictly legal obligation to do so.

Do we consider it burdensome to refrain from stealing?  Do we find it problematic to refrain from bearing false witness (gossip) against one another?  Do we find it impossible not to "bear a grudge against the children of your people" (Lev 19:18)?  If so - and I think we all face difficulties to one degree or another - the problem is not that the Law of the Lord prohibits these things; the problem is the internal conflict between what we want for ourselves and what the community of faith, the Lord's Church, the "ecclesia" needs from us.  This means self-gratification must take a back seat - and therein lies the challenge we face, the "war within" ourselves.

This "war within" is the greatest challenge of discipleship, and this difficulty is not unique to our 21st-century setting.  When would-be followers expressed their desire to follow Jesus, Jesus warned them of the cost of discipleship against their stated "priorities" especially as He "set His face to go to Jerusalem"; that is, to do what needs to be done.  The discomforts and the sacrifices and the total reordering of priorities are what discipleship is about. 

"The call of discipleship is not set against weak and flimsy excuses, but is set against primary personal and family obligations, those obligations WE establish: attending to creature needs and comforts, family duty, and family love" [according to our own priorities] (HarperCollins Bible Commentary, pg 941).  Discipleship is the ultimate battle between "flesh" and "spirit" because Jesus very clearly states that "He who loves father and mother more than Me is not worthy of Me, and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.  And he who does not take his cross and follow after me is not worthy of Me.  He who finds his life [in his own desires] will lose it; and he who loses his life for My sake will find it"(Matthew 10:37-39)!

The one thing we are compelled to do in this life is truthfully and completely face those things that tempt us, those things that haunt us.  The Good News - that is, the Gospel of our Lord - promises we will not face these things alone, that the Lord of the Church saw fit to come to us to show us the way THROUGH these fears and anxieties, not to ignore them but to learn to overcome them!  The Spirit of the Living and Eternal God sees fit to continue to show us the Way - if we will but listen; for we must always be mindful that even though the War has been won by the Mighty Hand of our Holy Father, we must continue to fight these battles as long as we live in this world.

If we still feel as though we are fighting these battles alone, then it is time to reconnect to the Church.  It is our community; it is the very Body of our Risen Lord, the Life we are called into not only in this hour of worship, praise, and prayer - but in every single hour we are awake!  Just as an army does not send out only one soldier to face the enemy, just as an army always keeps someone on watch, neither are we expected to face our enemies alone nor are we to fail to keep watch.  Stand together, and stand strong!  This is the Church, the Body of Christ!

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

A Thought for Monday 7/1/13

“Come to Me, you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”  Matthew 11:28-30

I think this is probably the passage most of us would prefer to “they will scourge you in their synagogues” (Mt 10:17), or “I did not come to bring peace but a sword” (Mt 10:34).  Yet these lessons come from the same Blessed Heart and essentially mean the same thing.  Yet we wonder how it could be that the One who would give us “rest” is also the One who brings “not peace but a sword” or would allow us to be dragged to a scourging only because we would dare proclaim the Gospel to an unbelieving world.  It’s a good question and one any serious disciple would be compelled to ask.

The answer would also be illusive because there is a component of discipleship not many intentionally sign up for or willingly endure: suffering.  This involves not only the physical abuse we might endure (I just heard on the radio this morning that a priest was beheaded yesterday in the Middle East) but would also include being substantially isolated not only from family and friends but also from associates and others who like to call themselves “saved” but want no part of discipleship.  Suffering is a reality of genuine discipleship, but this suffering is not by divine will; it is rather divine acknowledgement of a hard truth in a world that “hated Jesus first”.

Too many inside and outside the Church want to live their own lives and do their own thing like Israel during the time of the Judges; for these and many others the Church is just something they do only on Sunday – if then.  They will call upon the Church when they have need, but they will be unavailable or unwilling if and when the Church may call upon them.  These are not disciples nor will they endure any suffering in this life for the Gospel because they are more than willing to go along in order to get along; they want to be “liked” or be “popular”.  They will never receive divine rest because, frankly, they don’t need it; they take their rest at their leisure and on their own terms.

The promise of divine rest is to those who endure, those who suffer not because they brought suffering upon themselves but because they believed enough in the Gospel of the Lord to actually live it.  For these nothing ever goes “their way”, but they don’t mind because they believe in the promise that when they have done all they can do for the Church and for the Gospel, the Lord will give them rest.  They believe this, and they are willing to stake their lives on it.

We cannot have it both ways.  There are no magic spells or incantations that make our wishes come true, and the Lord’s will is never aligned with our own nor can we rub a magic lamp and make the Lord act against His own will and answer to us.  Yet because some segments of the Church are willing to say anything or do anything to give the people what they want, there are many would-be disciples who are unprepared when bad things inevitably come.  It is no different than raising our children and teaching them the meaning of the word “no”, correcting them when they do wrong, and punishing them when they go off the charts in bad behavior.  Why should the Church be different?

Let us pray for opportunities to not only proclaim the Gospel but to also have the opportunities to share in the sufferings of the saints who have gone before us; genuine saints who were NOT “good ol’ boys” whom everyone liked.  They were faithful witnesses to the Truth – and now they have their rest.