Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A Thought for Wednesday 8/28/13

“Jesus said, ‘Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able’.”  Luke 13:24

Jesus was responding to the question posed to him: “Are there few who are saved?”  How those who have become unable to enter is inferred by Jesus’ parable of the Master who finally decides to close and lock the door; that is, it will one day be too late for those who delayed their response to the Gospel.  Those of us who claim to be of “The Way”, however, should look a little more closely and try to answer the question not strictly for ourselves but for the sake of the witness of the Church.  Have there been many who are “unable” because of our own failure to live according to what we claim to be True?  Have we called ourselves “saved” while living like we truly worship the evil one himself?  Have we declared our own salvation but have not truly endured transformation?  Are we banking on “cheap grace” that we have come to depend on which asks nothing of us?

Consider the parable of the talents (Matthew 25) in which each slave was entrusted with “talents” from the Master before He departed.  Upon the Master’s return, it was time for the slaves to account for what had been entrusted to them.  Translate that to the Last Day, and one could easily imagine the Master asking each of us who have been entrusted with something special: Whom did you bring with you?  Those who had shown a “return” on the Master’s investment will be rewarded; the one who buried what had been entrusted to him will be cast “into the outer darkness”. 

“Above all things have fervent love for one another, for love will cover a multitude of sins.  Be hospitable to one another without grumbling.  As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Peter 4:8-10).  Our Lord asks much of us, but we have been given much more than we probably realize.  What we have been given, then, is to enable not only we who have received to enter through the “narrow gate” who is Christ our Lord but also those to whom we have borne faithful witness out of genuine love.  We are expected to bring guests, so the question for the faithful is this: is our invitation sincere?  Do we really believe there is a heaven, or do we simply hope there is no hell?  The Scriptures bear witness to the reality of both, and the Narrow Gate is to the Kingdom of Heaven; the road to perdition is very wide.  Anyone can enter there, but not everyone will be “able” to enter through the Narrow Gate.  Which do we testify to by our daily living?



MLK's "I have a dream"

Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech, August 28, 1963
I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon of hope to millions of slaves, who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity. But one hundred years later, the colored America is still not free. One hundred years later, the life of the colored American is still sadly crippled by the manacle of segregation and the chains of discrimination.

One hundred years later, the colored American lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the colored American is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we have come to our Nation's Capital to cash a check. When the architects of our great republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.

This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed to the inalienable rights of life liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given its colored people a bad check, a check that has come back marked "insufficient funds."

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and security of justice.

We have also come to his hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is not time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.

Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy.

Now it the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice.

Now it the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.

Now is the time to make justice a reality to all of God's children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment and to underestimate the determination of its colored citizens. This sweltering summer of the colored people's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end but a beginning. Those who hope that the colored Americans needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual.

There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the colored citizen is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities.

We cannot be satisfied as long as the colored person's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one.

We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating "for white only."

We cannot be satisfied as long as a colored person in Mississippi cannot vote and a colored person in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote.

No, we are not satisfied and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of your trials and tribulations. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by storms of persecutions and staggered by the winds of police brutality.

You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.

Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our modern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.

Let us not wallow in the valley of despair. I say to you, my friends, we have the difficulties of today and tomorrow.

I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed. We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.

I have a dream that one day out in the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interpostion and nullification; that one day right down in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be engulfed, every hill shall be exalted and every mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plains and the crooked places will be made straight and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I will go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.

With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.

With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to climb up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning "My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my father's died, land of the Pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring!"

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true. So let freedom ring from the hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.

Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.

Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

But not only that, let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi and every mountainside.

When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every tenement and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old spiritual, "Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last."

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A Thought for Tuesday 8/27/13

“It came to pass as Jesus sat at the table with [the disciples] that He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.  Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him, and He vanished from their sight.”  Luke 24:30-31

Recall that this incident took place after two disciples were walking along the road to Emmaus and had been joined by the Resurrected Messiah.  While they were talking and recounting the experiences of the past few days, they did not realize it was the Messiah who had joined them on the road – and they were talking about Him!  Nevertheless, even though the disciples considered Jesus a “stranger” at that moment, they invited Him to come stay with them since the end of the day was drawing near.

The encounter is a significant one for many reasons, but what happened afterward is key to understanding the importance of the hospitality of the Church.  That “their eyes were opened” when they finally recognized Messiah is attributed to their willingness to show hospitality to a “stranger”.  Had they treated Messiah as we have been conditioned to treat a “stranger” today, it is unlikely their eyes would ever have been “opened” because that epiphany is directly related to how we choose to treat one another – especially those we don’t even know.

Because our culture has completely lost its mind, we are understandably leery when it comes to strangers.  It is much safer to keep strangers at a safe distance for the sake and well-being of our loved ones until these strangers prove themselves trustworthy.  Yet the Scriptures remind us “not to forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels” (Hebrews 13:2).  This goes far beyond having a simple “welcoming committee” greet guests in church as they are handed a bulletin and virtually pushed into the sanctuary; it goes to the heart and soul of the truly welcoming church which reveals itself once the “stranger” comes to us as we remember we were “once strangers in a strange land”.



Monday, August 26, 2013

A Thought for Monday 8/26/13

“Walk prudently when you go to the house of God, and draw near to hear rather than to give the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they do evil.  Do not be rash with your mouth, and let not your heart utter anything hastily before God.  For God is in heaven, and you on earth.  Therefore let your words be few, for a dream comes through much activity, and a fool’s voice is known by his many words.  When you make a vow to God, do not delay to pay it; for He has no pleasure in fools.  Pay what you have vowed – better not to vow than to vow and not pay.”  Ecclesiastes 5:1-5

The “vow”, like repentance, is a term not often used in Church language today; and because it is an often neglected “old” term, we Christians do not seriously consider the implications of our “rash” words (clergy and laity alike!).  Jesus Himself required of His potential followers to “count the cost” before making a “vow” (that is, a commitment) to follow Him (Luke 14:28-33), understanding that there is much ahead of us we cannot see or appreciate until it is upon us.

We “vow” before the Lord when we join the Church to support our church with our prayers, presence, gifts, and service.  We “vow” before the Lord that we will love our spouses, “until death parts us”, as the Lord loves the Church when we marry.  We “vow” before the Lord as we present our children for the Sacrament of baptism that our children will be taught in and by the Church what it means to follow the Lord.  The congregation itself enters into that “vow” when the children are presented as baptized members of the Covenant to support the parents and take their part in the responsibility for raising that child in the Christian tradition, and yes, to hold the parents accountable for the “vows” they made just as the parents can hold the church accountable when help is needed but delayed.  This must all be done with ample forethought; not strictly according to tradition and certainly not on an emotional whim.

Things rarely work out the way we expect them to, especially when we enter into a “vow” simply because it seemed like a good idea at the time.  Our Lord does indeed understand our fickle nature, but there is nothing in the Scriptures which may suggest that our Lord does not take us at our word.  The “vow” may have been relegated to the “old” covenant by our careless and incomplete understanding of New Testament theology, but this is our failure, not a valid excuse – our failure not only in our careless words but also in our failure to seriously consider what a relationship with the Lord through His Church is about.  It is akin to our “taking the Lord’s name in vain”; that is, for no useful and holy purpose – “for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His Name in vain” (Exodus 20:7).

We must all seriously consider the “vows” we have made to the Lord by invoking His Name; and if that “vow” has not been or is not being repaid, we must not “delay” in making right that profound wrong.  The Lord has given us Life; the very least we can do is to take Him at His Word since it is clear He takes us at our word, weak though it may often be.



Sunday, August 25, 2013

Part-time _____; full-time _____"

Jeremiah 1:4-10
Psalm 139
Luke 12:10-17

“Being religious means asking passionately the question of the meaning of our existence and being willing to receive answers, even if the answers hurt.”  Paul Tillich

For Tillich (20th-century German theologian and existentialist), the essential questions of human existence are associated with philosophy and, more specifically, ontology (the study of being). This is because, according to Tillich, a lifelong pursuit of philosophy reveals that the central question of every philosophical inquiry always comes back to the question of being, or what it means to exist as a finite human being within the realm of eternity.  Who am I, and what am I doing here?  All relative, of course, to the Christian revelation - that is, who we are to the Lord, to the Church, to one another, to the Kingdom of Heaven; none of which is exclusive.  All are connected.  This is "existentialism".

It is unlikely we have all been called to be "prophets to the nations" as Jeremiah was, but it is a spiritual certainty that none of us came to be strictly by chance.  If it is true that any one individual was known before "being formed in the womb", if any one individual was "fearfully and wonderfully made" (Psalm 139:14), it must be equally true that ALL are known "before being formed in the womb", that ALL are "fearfully and wonderfully made", that the Lord "saw my substance, being yet unformed" (Psalm 139:16); meaning we "existed" before we were even born!  And not only did we "exist", we existed with "substance, being yet unformed"!  This means there is nothing "random" at all about human existence!  And as I have shared in the past, though there are certainly unintended and unplanned pregnancies, there is never an "accidental" or useless human life!

Who we are to the Lord and His Church especially goes beyond our mere "existence"; ALL are endowed with certain spiritual gifts - it is our "substance".  And in the environment of a continually declining Church in America and a society that has completely lost its collective mind and sense of purpose and meaning, it is time for the faithful to discover or reconnect to these spiritual gifts so that we may go about the business for which we are ALL called and to which we are ALL baptized as the Body of Christ, the Church: to make disciples of Christ.  And this mission is literally a matter of life and death to those outside the Covenant, as Catholic Archbishop Chaput expresses: "The Church exists not for itself but for others. We exist for evangelization, for the health and welfare of souls." 

So it is the task of the "baptized" - clergy and laity alike - to grow the Church by making disciples rather than recruiting members; the Trustees can see to the maintenance of the building, but ALL baptized Christians are responsible for and accountable to the Church, the "ekklesia", the congregation of the faithful.  It is important, then, to understand that while we are not all called to be prophets, we are all called to be - and to make - disciples, utilizing our God-given spiritual gifts to that end.  And make no mistake; it takes a disciple to make a disciple.  It is not possible, as St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, for the "body" to function as it is intended to function if all the "parts" are not both present and doing as they are designed and intended to do; "God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased" (1 Cor 12:18).  "As HE pleased ...", not as we choose.  And not randomly, but purposefully. 

As the language itself suggests, this was put into place before we were "formed in the womb ... with substance" already present.  In helping the faithful to understand their spiritual gifts, the Church has over time suggested that if it is enjoyable for us and if we seem to have a natural inclination toward a particular thing, then that must be our "gift".  There is an element of truth in such an assessment, of course, because some are naturally talented in certain areas while others are more strongly suited to something entirely different.  The miracle of such a Grand Design in humanity is evident in those who are strong in math and the sciences while others are better suited for the arts.  These don't make one "better" or "smarter".  It is what makes the pieces become "whole".  It is how the Lord "set the members ... in the Body just as He pleased".

There is also a misleading element in suggesting that if we enjoy doing a particular thing, that thing must be our natural talent.  Needless to say, there are many inappropriate, sinful, and entirely selfish things we can do that may be enjoyable for us, but these things are also equally destructive not only to us but also those whom we willfully neglect.  The lie is also attached to the notion that Divine Will allows us to do only that which we enjoy because it blurs the fine line between "lust" which is self-centered - and - "love" which is always outwardly projected for the "edification", that is, the building up, of others in and for the Church.

Understanding what we have been specifically gifted for in the Kingdom of Heaven while on this earth, then, must go beyond what we "like" to do.  It is understanding the gifts and graces with which we have been endowed and actively seeking the wisdom AND the heart-felt love of the Church to put those gifts to good use as the Church has need in its mission to make disciples.  

It is in the fellowship of the Church and our love for one another that we are willing to hold up our end and do our part so that our fellows will not be overwhelmed with doing their own part and having to carry us as well.  This is when the fellowship and the mission of the Church begin to falter.  The fellowship falters when fellow members come to realize other fellow members simply do not care that others must carry their load.  And when the mission of the Church falters or becomes non-existent, souls get left behind - and the Church relinquishes its claim as the Body of Christ and surrenders its moral authority. 

Doing only what we care to do or doing only what we feel like doing cannot be construed as "love" except for love of self.  The genuine love we have first for our Lord is exemplified not only by Jeremiah but also by Isaiah and by Moses, to name only a few.  Jeremiah was clearly not very excited about what he had been called forth and set apart to do, but he was also not left alone to the task. 

He had our Lord's assurance that he would not be alone in the task to which he was called.  So did Isaiah, and so did Moses.  So do we, but we must first be willing.  In order to be willing, then, we must first believe we are a part of something much bigger than self.  If we are unwilling to believe that or unwilling to embrace that spiritual reality, then we reject a significant portion of New Testament theology that teaches us how everything and everyone are intimately connected in the spiritual realm of the Most High God.  Nothing is exempted - NOTHING.  And certainly NO ONE.  Not even "organized religion".

Religion is not the dirty word so-called "spiritualists" try to make it out to be.  Rather religion is the whole and holy means by which we draw closer to our Lord in and through the Body of Christ - the WHOLE Body, not just the portions or persons we "like".  Religion is the means by which we discover what the Lord has in store for us, by attending to the Sacraments of the Church, by attending to the study of Scripture, by prayer and fasting, and by worship attendance with one another - to ask "passionately" the hard questions we might rather side-step or avoid altogether for fear that the answer we might receive will not be the one we "like".  And that is simply running away - as Jonah attempted to.  It did not work for him; it will not work for us - for our Lord's purposes WILL BE FULFILLED with us or without us.  "So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth.  It shall not return to Me empty, but it shall accomplish what I please.  And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it" (Isaiah 55:11)

It all goes far beyond simply "going to church"; it is about becoming and being the Church, the Body of Christ, within the Covenant of Christ.  To attend worship (as opposed to just "going to church") is an act of faith itself within the religious expression and draws us closer to asking the question: who are we?  It is about attending to all these means of grace first by completely emptying ourselves so that we may be filled.  We are all at least "part-time humanists".  Yet all these means are made available to us through the Church so that we may one day become "full-time disciples".  Discipleship is the intentional and hungry pursuit of holiness, of perfection which transcends the cheap religion of "personal salvation" filled only with excuses and little else.  There is more - MUCH more.  For "Personal salvation" is where it all begins; not where it ends.

"Before you were formed in the womb, I knew you".  What our Lord "knew" then is what we are to discover now in the Name and in the Body of Christ.  Amen.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

A Thought for Thursday 8/22/13

“You who teach another, do you not teach yourself?”  Romans 2:21

St. Paul is castigating those who consider themselves Jews who abide faithfully by the Law primarily by demanding of others the requirements of the Law but refusing or failing to live themselves by its terms.  We should not misunderstand Paul’s message, however; he is not undermining the Law which is the Word of the Lord.  He is rather taking a shot at those whose lives are inconsistent, at one time upholding and preaching the Law and at other times dismissing the Law in their own lives.  It makes me think of those in our world today who preach and demand “tolerance”  but are themselves entirely intolerant.  Or those who preach and teach civil rights but are largely silent when those who become victims are not the right color.  Or the people of the Church who live according to what suits them best as the situation requires, “as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge” (Romans 1:29).

It happens this way to the people of the Church, though, because the earnest practices of discipleship are absent from the lives of those who call themselves “Christian”, “having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Timothy 3:5).  It is that inconsistency by which the character of what we propose to be good and true loses its appeal, and ultimately exposes us for what we really are despite what we claim to be.  As is so often said, people believe what they see – not what they hear (unless it’s gossip about someone else!).

Few of us can escape the trappings of hypocrisy, however, because we are human.  We are hard-wired in a certain way according to our nature.  Our Lord, however, calls us to rise above our natural impulses.  So Grace came to us in Messiah, not as an excuse but as a way out!  Grace grants to us the capacity and the ability to make right the wrongs in our own lives.  Grace requires that we get the “log out of our own eye before we worry about the speck in our neighbor’s eye”.  Grace exposes to us the more Excellent Way, and encourages us to take Messiah at His Word as we follow Him diligently and faithfully by partaking of the Sacraments of the Church, by studying the Scriptures, by prayer and fasting, and by worship of our Lord in fellowship with other disciples.  Grace does not leave us where we are because where we are is not where our Lord intends for us to be.

Let us forge ahead in the Journey which is before us, and let us be the ones who encourage others to follow; for there is no other way than The Way.  There is no other truth than His Truth, and there is no other life than the Life to which we are called in Messiah.



Tuesday, August 20, 2013

A Thought for Tuesday 8/20/13

“My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord nor detest His correction; for whom the Lord loves He corrects, just as a father the son in whom he delights.”  Proverb 3:11-12 NKJV

The twisted notion that “the devil is out to get me” when bad things happen to us suggests we really have reached a point at which we believe the Lord to be our personal, magical genie who grants wishes and gives in to our hearts’ every desires.  We fail to understand the wisdom of the Proverbs in which the writer points out certain spiritual realities, not least of which is the Divine Love that reaches out when we go astray. It is not our Lord’s desire to indulge our every fantasy anymore than we would indulge our own children’s every demand.  Love is always more evident in “no” than in “whatever”.

This is not to suggest bad things always necessarily mean the Lord is correcting us.  Rather it is to understand that we must stop, “be still”, and evaluate where we are, what we are doing, and why we are doing it before we can know of the Lord’s part in it.  Life itself is not always fair, and wanting something does not mean we are entitled to have it.  Such a concept of personal indulgence is a perversion of Jesus’ words to His disciples to “ask anything in My name”.  Actually it is a perversion of just about any passage of the Scriptures removed from its appropriate context.  Often an entire chapter must be read before a single passage can make any sense.  A refusal to read and contemplate the entire text is a refusal to engage fully in the Divine Relationship.  One cannot know of a Savior one knows nothing about.

Greet the challenges of the day with joy and anticipation, for “it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom” – but the “Kingdom” is not of this world.  Our reward for faithfulness and enduring each day’s challenge in His Name and for His purposes is on the other side of the grave.  And it is not ours to take; it is wholly our Father’s to give.

Before that Day, then, we must be prepared and willing to endure a good “chastening” from time to time; it is the revelation of our Holy Father’s will, and it is the evidence of our Holy Father’s love.



Monday, August 19, 2013

A Thought for Monday 8/19/13

“It is in our lives and not in our words that our religion must be read.”  Thomas Jefferson 

Thomas Jefferson was apparently a very practical, reasoning man.  He did not have much use for the miracles and mysteries of the Bible, but he understood completely the practical part of living according to the faith one professes.  It is a reasonable assumption that he had little use for those whose profession of faith did not match the choices they made in daily living.  It is not a matter of “works” by which we try to earn favor with The Most High; rather it is the “works” by which we bear witness to the More Excellent Way. 

This kind of living does not come automatically nor easily.  It is a conscious effort by a conscious mind devoted to conscious prayer; that is, we intentionally and by design live according to the Word we profess, not the words we speak.  It is as is so often said: people believe what they see, not what they hear.

We know what is the More Excellent Way; He is Christ the Lord, the Messiah, the Way.  To say that we “know” Him, however, goes far beyond simply saying His name; it is, rather, by following Him.  That is what unbelievers will believe, and that is what others will take seriously.  Let us also remember, too, that this intentionality and sense of purpose are how our own lives and our own faith are built up, how the Covenant becomes more real and less abstract – when we live it as though it is true.



Thursday, August 15, 2013


"Children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward.  Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one's youth.  Happy are those whose quiver is full; they shall not be ashamed, but will speak with their enemies in the gate."  Psalm 127:3-5

Much is made over homosexual marriage as the eventual end of humanity obviously because homosexuals cannot biologically reproduce.  Such a narrow vision overlooks this certain reality: we are entirely too self-absorbed in our own lives, our own comforts, our own recreation, and our own futures so much so that children are being looked upon as an undue, unnecessary, and completely avoidable burden.  Birth control and abortion have over time come to be represented and embraced as "rights", and even in some Protestant denominations it is considered responsible to limit by chemical or mechanical means the number of children we produce.

What sort of message does this convey to the children we do have, especially in a very challenging economic environment in which it is said that part-time jobs are becoming the new norm?  And when we struggle to make ends meet as many are, coupled with the screaming headlines that children are expensive, how do young children process this information especially in their formative years?

The headlines are glaring: "The cost of raising a child is $241,080.00".  This is only taking the child up to the eighteenth year, which obviously does not factor in the extraordinary cost of a college education.  Broken down, this comes to $13,393.00 dollars per year, $1,116.00 per month.  For the working family and for those just beginning their lives together as a newly married couple, these figures can be daunting and downright intimidating.   

This latest information comes from the US Department of Agriculture and is based on a child born in 2012.  There are variants according to the region in which the child is born and can even vary according to the two-parent couple's economic status and whether both parents are working which factors in a roughly $1000.00 average monthly childcare bill.  Breaking down the cost per region, however, does not speak to the overall message conveyed when even our government, a government which is now endorsing (if not outright underwriting) birth control and abortion as legitimate means, gets involved in warning us that parenthood may be a burden strictly reserved for higher-than-middle-income persons. 

Of course if we put a pencil to the figures, it is easy for even the most religiously conservative person to suggest that if one cannot afford children, one should not reproduce.  In our society there are no truer words spoken.  It is like buying a new car when an older, used car is actually more affordable but buying the new car through creative financing that makes the monthly payments easier to reach.  All these things and much more come from a dominant secular culture that is not so concerned with a "heritage" at all, let alone one from the Lord, and is certainly not concerned with the future of the community, the Church, or the nation.  It is much more concerned with keeping up with the Jones' and living the way our society thinks we should live in the here-and-now, and claiming "rights" we really do not have; according to standards that are not really standards but are rather cultural markers that shift with the tide or the direction of the wind. 

Of course raising a child is expensive.  So is insurance.  So is eating out once or twice a week.  So are luxury cars or big, four-wheel drive trucks for those who don't even hunt.  So are annual vacations to Disney World or beach condos.  It is all a matter of perspective and priority, but we should not be led to believe children are the primary problem nor should we allow ourselves to be convinced that children are burdens.  It is not children, per se, that are expensive; it is what we choose to do with these children and whether we will take the responsibility to raise them ourselves or put that onus on someone else.  It is whether we will interact with our children and teach them vital social skills, or if we will hand them big-screen TV's, Xboxes, iPhones, laptops, and other expensive, big-ticket items in their private bedrooms and leave them to entertain themselves.  It is a matter of whether we will send our children to public schools or private schools.  It is a matter of whether no-name denim jeans will do, or if they will "just die" if they lack designer jeans and fourteen pairs of "cute" shoes.  It is about whether we teach them "values" by our own examples, or if we show them what is of true "value" by the choices we make. 

Slice it any way you like, but children are not themselves the problem.  The problem with children is that they are honest and direct.  They notice everything, they see things much more clearly, and they ask a lot of questions.  They are naive, but they are not stupid.  Children force us to account for our lives and our choices, and children cause us to rethink everything we choose and do and say.  They are truly a heritage from the Lord and a gift beyond our years, and we are genuinely blessed when our lives are endowed with children.  The problem is that we are too shallow, too selfish, too self-absorbed, and too ambitious for our own good.  And children call us on that.  This is the true blessing which can come only from children.  This reality, however, is not the headline we prefer, is it?  

A Thought for Thursday 8/15/13

“We command you, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from everyone who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which they received from us.”  2 Thessalonians 3:6

“Tolerance” is a big word and asks much from the faithful.  It has become a politically correct word which implies that we must learn to “live and let live”.  We should not, however, confuse “tolerance” with “endorsement”.  “Tolerance” simply means that we see the way things are, the way far too many “walk disorderly”, and recognize that we cannot dictate how others choose to live.  “Endorsement”, on the other hand, means that we actively give our stamp of approval to their “disorderly” lives which go against the “traditions” to which this passage refers; the “tradition” of Messiah to honor and, yes, obey the Law of the Lord and look after one another in mutual accountability to the faith.  Anything less than this cannot be construed as “love”; it is, rather, “neglect”.

That we reach out in order to attest to the more excellent way is a necessary thing as the mission to which we are called, but to get too deeply involved in such a “disorderly” life could possibly become a stumbling block and overwhelming temptation for us.  So we reach out, but we do so with extreme caution while being mindful of how slippery the slope actually is.  When it becomes clear that these others do not want to hear the Truth, when it becomes clear that they are going to reject the Good News, it is time to withdraw peaceably.  Remember these in our prayers and devotions, but look ahead to those who may be more open to the Gospel of our Lord. 

This warning to the faithful of Thessalonica is not a spiritual threat of judgment; it is an acknowledgement of a certain reality.  Temptation is real, and sin is real; and both can be utterly destructive especially to those who are new to the faith.  It is an easy thing to fall into “cheap grace” by which we are tempted to believe we are saved “in” our sin rather than “from” our sins.  This lesson is as valid to the Church today as we go about the Church’s business of making disciples of Messiah.  We need one another to stay faithful to the “tradition we received” and in mutual accountability to keep our eyes on the ball.



Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A Thought for Wednesday 8/14/13

“My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.”  Abraham Lincoln

In President Lincoln’s second inaugural address, he speculated that as the North and South prayed to the same God and read the same Scriptures, each would also dare to suggest the Lord is on “their” side in the War between the States.  Mr. Lincoln opined that the war was more likely the judgment itself rather than a means to judgment against one side or the other.

We often do this in response to Romans 8:31: “If the Lord is for us, who can be against us?”  We often use such passages to justify our own chosen paths and our own desires that have little to do with the pursuit of righteousness and holiness, and more to do with our own lives and our own pursuits.  We expect the Lord to follow us and favor us because we are “saved”, forgetting that disciples follow the Lord.  “I have stretched out My hands all day long to a rebellious people who walk in a way that is not good, according to their own thoughts” (Isaiah 65:2); the implication being that the people who call themselves “chosen” are running away rather than toward.

When we finally come to our senses, however, and realize that life has beaten us down pretty badly because our choices have been our choices and not His, we will turn and find the Lord with His “stretched out hands” waiting for us to come back, like the Prodigal.  This is the enduring nature of the Eternal Covenant our Lord has offered to all, Jew and Gentile alike.  It is the Promise that will endure after our own silly ideas have been long forgotten.



Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A Thought for Tuesday 8/13/13

“You is kind.  You is smart.  You is important.”  The Help

If you’ve seen this exceptional movie, you may remember this line from one of the ladies who worked to remind her young charges of how special they are especially when they feel neglected or somehow unimportant, how special they will always be.  The trick to the whole thing, however, is that we must often be reminded of how special we are – not because someone tells us (although that always helps!) but because it is how we are created in that glorious and Divine Image!

It often strikes me as odd that we would argue over creationism vs. evolution and overlook what is most important in the entire Creation Story; the advent of humanity!  Think of it.  We worry about who made the planet, the plants, the rocks, the animals (young ones often wonder why the Lord stopped making dinosaurs!), but we only think of humans in terms of creation; hardly ever do we consider the Divine Purpose for which we are all created.

We must work harder to keep our eye on the ball, and remember that which is most important of all.  It doesn’t matter so much “how” we are created, but it matters most profoundly “that” we are created, “fearfully and wonderfully made” with the utmost respect.

You is important to the Lord, to the Church, and to your neighbor.  Let us reconnect with that Divine Reality and begin anew.  Together.



Monday, August 12, 2013

A Thought for Monday 8/12/13

“Assemble yourselves together frequently to seek the things that benefit your souls, for all the time of your faith will not profit you unless you are perfect at the last. For in the last days, false prophets and seducers will increase, turning the sheep into wolves; and love will be turned into hate.”  Didache (The Teaching of the Twelve), chp 16

The Didache (did-ah-kay) is an ancient document said to have been written sometime in the late 1st century-early 2nd century.  Some scholars suggest it may have been written by the Apostles themselves, but there is no real consensus.  For purposes of study, however, it is a reflection, summary, and in some cases, clarification of what is taught in the Scriptures.  If there can be anything written that can said to be “the basics” (Acts 15), the Didache may fit that bill.  Understand, however, that this document nor any other should ever replace the Scriptures themselves for disciples’ daily study and devotions.

The above-quoted passage itself seems to bear this out in that the faithful are called to gather “together frequently”.  This surely includes not only small-group Scripture studies but worship and fellowship as well (not either/or).  This passage also makes clear what is fundamental to the Methodist movement from the beginning; that we work with one another to hold one another accountable to the faith for the sake of “the things that benefit your souls”.  Studying together, praying together, fasting together; as much as we can do alone, there is much more we can do when we are “assembled” as the “flock” of the Lord (Luke 12:32).

Working together and staying together as the “flock” (that is, the Church) is the point of striving for “perfection” as it is written in the Scriptures and as the Methodist movement began to grow beyond that moment of spiritual clarification, of justification, and pursuing “sanctification”, to continually grow in faith and in love; for truly, what is “love” if not expressed outwardly in works toward the building up of the Body, especially the “neighbor” whom Jesus defines as one who needs our help?  If we do not “love” them enough to help, then it can be said we “hate” them, for there is no gray area.  We must also remember that predators do not attack a whole body; rather the predator works to separate one from the flock, preferably the weakest.  So do false prophets seek out the weak among us to seduce with half-truths and outright lies, and work to capitalize on our doubts and fears. 

We need each other, “for all the time of your faith will not profit you unless you are perfect at the last”.  It is as Jesus states in Matthew’s gospel: “You shall be perfect just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (5:48).  The Twelve did not seek to call forth a bunch of individuals; rather they were apostles to the Church, to build up the Body of Christ in the world, to work with one another, to strive together, and to be prepared for the Coming of our Lord.  And make no mistake; there is much to be done.



Sunday, August 11, 2013

Garage Sale

Isaiah 1:1, 10-20
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
Luke 12:32-48

“Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable.  Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”  Martin Luther King, Jr

Those who choose not to fast during Lent or never to fast at all because they have convinced themselves it is an unnecessary "works thing" or a "Catholic thing" fail to understand the spiritual component of fasting - as one of untold and as-yet-unseen opportunity rather than as an unnecessary burden.  The practice of fasting is not merely a "test" to see if we could or would even try to go without, say, chocolate for a limited period of time.  Fasting should be approached as a "means" rather than a "test"; a "means" by which we evaluate our lives and determine for ourselves what stands between us and a more fulfilling and purposeful relationship with the Lord through the Church.

Fasting is a means by which we determine the extent and weight of the excess baggage that slows us down.  This is the inherent problem with the so-called "prosperity gospel" which teaches that material blessings are a sign of Divine Favor.  This is also problematic in equating "stuff" with "blessing", which is akin to the "prosperity gospel" because we fail to realize how encumbered we can become with too much "stuff", how beholden we may be to a world that cares little about us - except for the "stuff" we may possess. 

This is the question at the heart of what Jesus is talking about in Luke's Gospel.  "Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit" can certainly be said to be reminiscent of the Exodus which came upon ancient Israel in Egypt; to "gird your loins" and be prepared to leave on a moment's notice.  This much is as true for the Church today as we await our Lord's return as we commemorate the Lord's Supper, but there is much more to this passage than a spiritual "threat" of the impending Judgment.  Much more.

It begins with verse 32 (Luke 12) when Jesus assures His Church (the flock) that "it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the Kingdom"This passage should set the tone for what follows.  We should not be so bound by traditional understandings of the biblical "Day of the Lord" that have been summarized on bumper stickers which read, "Jesus is coming.  Be afraid; be very afraid".  NO!  This is not what our Lord is teaching His "flock".  Jesus is not threatening them!  We are awaiting a Divine Assurance, a Promise that will one day be fulfilled. 

Until that Day, however, there is much to be done.  But before we can know what is to be done (as opposed to doing what we feel like doing or what WE think should be done), we desperately need both fasting and serious, contemplative, time-consuming prayer.  We need to have a serious, spiritual "garage sale" so that when the time of the Master's return is upon us - not "if" - we will be unencumbered by the clutter in our lives and genuinely "dressed for action".

Part of the spiritual principle and a major component of fasting is in Jesus' commandment to "sell your possessions and give alms"; that is, not merely sharing our abundance with the poor but casting off and ridding ourselves of that which spiritually weighs us down.  Learn to do with less - or learn to do without altogether those things that can inhibit rather than enhance a relationship with the Lord through the Church.  And let's face it: if it takes "wealth" and "stuff" for us to appreciate the Lord's goodness, we are not living by faith - we are living by sight and by indulgence.

Selling what we have, however, is not a matter of testing ourselves to see if we can actually do without those things - although much is revealed to us when we determine our unwillingness to go without - which is also a point of fasting.  It is a determination that A) we really can do without these things just as so many others are forced by hardship to do without those same things, B) others may be suffering unjustly for lack of those things truly needed, and C) understanding we cannot be "dressed" and ready for the Master's return if we are so self-involved, so heavily encumbered, and so inwardly focused.  It goes far beyond the wealthy compared to the camel through the eye of a needle. 

There is an imbalance, an injustice; a lack of genuine righteousness.  It is not strictly about religious practices as some would suggest Isaiah is an excuse to disengage from worship; it is entirely about empty religious practices by which we refuse to fully engage in the relationship; we just go through the motions and expect the practice, whatever it may be, to be a sufficient offering. 

Worst of all, our Lord closes His heart to our "many prayers" because our hands are "full of blood" (Isaiah 1:15); that is, having turned a blind eye to the needs of others as Judah did and as the Church does in continuing to accumulate in our abundance and calling it "blessings" - the things we cannot possibly take with us, the things "moths can destroy", things "thieves can steal".  We are not actively seeking the "unfailing treasures in heaven" (Luke 12:33) because we are satisfied with and comforted by only those things we can see and feel and taste and touch.  Would we feel so richly blessed if we truly "needed" Asbury's food pantry for our sustenance? Would we still feel the presence of the Lord if our only home was the Southern Christian Mission's shelter?  These questions are impossible to answer when our lives are so cluttered, but they need to be answered.

Fasting, then, is the practice by which we evaluate and inventory our whole lives.  Fasting is a discovery of what is wasteful in our lives, a discovery of what we would actually try to cling to upon our Master's return.  At His anticipated and yet unexpected return, we might even find ourselves trying to justify our abundance and our refusal to "sell and give" to those who would only "drink it up or shoot it up or waste it anyway".  To say that we would be willing to drop everything when the Lord returns is being foolhardy and less than honest because, as Jesus clearly points out, what we treasure now is where our hearts will be then.

The Church has for centuries encouraged the practice of fasting as a "legal requirement", a "thing" we must do because Jesus did - or because Jesus teaches that certain demons can only be exorcised by "prayer and fasting" (Matthew 17:21).  It is time, however, to understand fasting in a new context, a new light - just as we should come to understand the Second Coming as more than a "threat" to those who have not played nice with others.  There are many chains and shackles that have hold of us, more than we would like to admit, more than we are even consciously aware of because we have become acclimated to these things as the true measure of our worth.  Borrowing a line from the movie, "John Q", it is not 'values' we hold dear; it is 'value'.  And that, my beloved, is a profound spiritual problem!

Throughout this passage in Luke's gospel there is that constant state of preparedness, of readiness, and yes, of expectation.  It is an intentional - rather than incidental - engagement in the relationship, taking nothing for granted, and evaluating everything we have and everything we do within the context of that Divine relationship (Deuteronomy 6:5).  Our "worth" to our Lord is NOT measured in dollars and cents.  HOWEVER, if our Lord's "value" to us is measured by what we are able to indulge for ourselves, there exists a real problem and a very powerful demon that can only be overcome by "fasting and prayer".

Jesus reminds us that we are given much not because we are "so blessed"; we are given much because much will be required of us - FOR Him, IN Him, THROUGH Him - for our neighbors.  Because "it is your Father's good pleasure to give you (not stuff, but) The Kingdom."  It is the "stuff" that, rather than blessing us, can truly hold us back.  So let us cast off the chains and shackles of "stuff", confront the demons within by "fasting and prayer", and strive TOGETHER for the "unfailing treasure in heaven".  It is, indeed, your Father's good pleasure.

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

Thursday, August 08, 2013

A Thought for Thursday 8/8/13

“There are no original ideas.  There are only original people.”  Barbara Grizzuti Harrison

Consistent with the wisdom of Ecclesiastes, we should know there is “nothing new under the sun”.  Aside from technology, this is true of human nature; even with technology, it should be seen that we still try to accomplish essentially the same things.  Technology is only a means to a familiar end.

We, however, are not the same.  As the Scriptures point out, we are each “fearfully and wonderfully made”; that is, with utmost respect are we conceived of by our Holy Father, and with the greatest care are we each endowed with certain spiritual gifts.  With these gifts we are called forward in our unique vocation, regardless of what that vocation may be.  And make no mistake; it does not have to be a uniquely “religious” vocation by which we work to glorify our Holy Father and show the world the power of Divine Love even by our meager hands.

Be who you are, but be who you are within the greater context of what you have been “fearfully and wonderfully made” to be.  And remember above all things: in that greater context it is not about “you” as an individual.  It is all about the Lord and serving Him by serving His beloved, just as Jesus did – in that Divine Image in which we are all created.



Wednesday, August 07, 2013

A Thought for Wednesday 8/7/13

“Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven.  For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.”  Matthew 18:10-11 NKJV

The tone for the teaching in chapter 18 is set when Jesus is asked by His disciples, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”  Jesus calls a child forward and states very clearly that we must become “as little children” in our conversion to faith if we ever want to see the Kingdom.  We must be as willing to believe as we are willing to continue following, just as a child would do without question.  It is more than an intellectual acknowledgement, and it far transcends that moment of justification when we become aware of our sins and our need for a Savior.  That “the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost” is clearly stated, but is it really understood?  That is, do we really think it’s all done if we just “get saved”?  Do we no longer have a need for Messiah beyond that?

When we travel we can consult a map and even stop to ask for directions when we are off track.  Through these means we can be put back on the right path.  However, we know how easily we can take a wrong turn and become lost again even if we do know of the ultimate destination.  The same is true of our spiritual path.  It is a mistake to believe that “getting saved” ends the Journey, for it is far too easy to become “lost” at any point when we become distracted and follow our own path rather than to constantly seek the Lord and trust Him enough to follow Him.

It is when we become too self-assured when we are more likely to deviate from the Path, when we decide for ourselves that once “saved” or “justified” (depending on the language of a particular tradition) that we no longer have a real need for a Savior.  This is when we find ourselves “lost” yet again – when we try to go it alone and choose our own path.  This is not only foolish but spiritually dangerous, for our Lord does not save us IN our sin or IN darkness; He delivers us FROM our sins and brings us into the Light.  It is up to us to follow Him faithfully “as a child” rather than to expect Him to follow us. 

There is a lesson in the Exodus for us.  Forty years in the wilderness to teach Israel about the Lord and about living in community with one another, learning how to follow the Lord until they actually arrived at the Promised Land – and we somehow think we can achieve the fullness of that relationship in an instant and never be lost again?  No!  We must “become” as little children and then follow as little children, willing to admit there is no moment in our lives when we do not need a Savior, THE Savior.



Tuesday, August 06, 2013

A Thought for Tuesday 8/6/13

“Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer.  Indeed the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days.  Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.”  Revelation 2:10 NKJV

Someone once said, Where there is faith there is the Lord; where there is fear there is the evil one.  Too often our initial reaction to things outside of our control is one of fear, of great concern.  We are concerned for our loved ones, we are concerned for our own financial well-being, and there is concern for our neighbors.  These seem to be trying and troubling times, but they are no more or less so than during any other period in human history.  What makes everything seem worse than perhaps it really is, is our reaction to the things around us.  When we react angrily out of some sense of fear and begin to slander those whom we believe responsible for our fears and concerns, we fail to realize we are only playing “their” game … on their terms.

Our Lord is offering comfort to the Church in Smyrna in terms of the persecutions surely to come their way.  Asking of the Church to be without “fear”, however, is a tall order regardless of the culture or the generation.  Fear is a natural response to anything that is perceived as a threat to our way of life; but real fear, paralyzing fear is that sure and certain absence of faith.  It is not the “enemy” that destroys us; it is the fear within us that does us the most harm and serves only to separate us one from the other until we find ourselves standing utterly alone.

The Church is not what we do – it is who we are as the Body of Christ, disciples of our beloved Lord.  When we are steadfast in our faith and in our care for one another, we testify to the community of the goodness and ultimate purpose of the Church, the Body of Christ alive and well within us and about us.  Things are going to happen that we can have no control over because we cannot control what other people do.  We can, however, control our own responses – and do so within the utmost assurance of our Lord that when we persevere to the bitter end – together! - we will receive our very own “crown of life”.

Hold on to one another, and support one another within the Church.  Reach out to those who live in constant fear so that we may show them the more Excellent Way, the Church, the Body of Christ – remembering it is not where we are on Sunday mornings; it is who we are 24/7.