Thursday, April 30, 2015

A Thought for Thursday 30 April 2015

“He who mocks the poor reproaches his Maker; he who is glad at calamity will not go unpunished.”  Proverbs 17:5 NKJV

It is not always easy to discern between the poor who have gotten caught up in unfortunate circumstances, and the poor who refuse to do for themselves.  Without being actively engaged in relationship, there is no way to “just know” how things really are.  Because we generally have everything we need, and some more than others, it is hard to understand how someone can reach such a low point.  Especially for those who have never had to work, who have never had moments of uncertainty, whose parents have always given them what they need without question, it is virtually impossible to appreciate how or why others struggle so.  This is why Jesus teaches of danger to those whose entire lives are dependent on money.  Deep down many do not see the blessing intended for blessing others.  They only see entitlement.

We are all, however, in danger of falling into this trap.  When Jesus teaches of the dangers of wealth and the “camel through the eye of a needle”, He is not speaking exclusively about bazillionaires!  We are all one step away from the snares that so easily entangle when we can so easily forget our Maker when we have plenty.  The book of Judges alone can teach us this, and it is a safe bet that the whole nation of Israel was not a nation of bazillionaires.

I wish I could see more easily through those who come to the church I serve, for instance, needing food or a utility bill paid.  The resources are not always available; but even if they are available, I get caught up in trying to decide whether the request is genuine or if I’m just being played.  Frankly it usually feels like I’m being played because these who come to my door rarely say “thank you” – and NONE return for worship though they are always invited and encouraged to explore such a relationship with a people willing to help.

And there is the spiritual dilemma for many.  It is when we “mock” those who come and go so easily without really understanding who they are and where they come from; it is when we gain some perverted sense of satisfaction in believing they are getting what they have coming to them.  Rich or poor or anywhere in between, it is a common challenge we all face.

I don’t know what the answer is, of course, and this is the point.  There is too much we do not know and cannot know if we do not care to go to the trouble of finding out what the whole story is.  We do not care to get past that cursed “you can just tell”.  As it is written, “pride goes before destruction”.  Pride in our intellect is as dangerous as pride in our stuff!

Lest we forgot, “our” Maker is “their” Maker.  “Our” God is “their God” even if they call their God by another Name – or no name.  As Jesus was crucified for “us”, so was He also crucified for “them” – whether one believes it or not.  As we judge, so are we judged – “saved” or not.  We must not let our abundance or our lack convince us we are somehow better or more favored than another, for our God and Father does not show “partiality” (Acts 10:34). 

I suppose the lesson for us is that it really does not matter whether we can accurately discern.  St. Paul did not seem to mind being considered a “fool” for Christ.  Maybe we should not mind, either.



Wednesday, April 29, 2015

A Thought for Wednesday 29 April 2015

“Praise The Lord!  Praise The Lord, O my soul!  While I live I will praise The Lord; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.  Do not put your trust in princes, nor in a son of man in whom there is no help.  His spirit departs, he returns to his earth; in that very day his plans perish.”  Psalm 145:1-4 NKJV

The advent of the election season is slowing making its way back into the American mainstream, and it has already gotten ugly.  Based on past trends we can be pretty sure it will get much worse and much more expensive.  Every season we break new records in the billions of dollars we go through to elect a president.  Every season we pin our hopes on any one of these mortal beings in the vain belief that they can actually do what they will certainly promise to do.  Regardless of party affiliation, none try to convince us they are suited to be chief executive of this nation’s government.  Rather they try to convince us (maybe even themselves) that they are “anointed” and are our next best hope, our salvation from a wretched past.

And every election season, much to our profound disappointment, we learn they are just as human, just as flawed as the one they intend to succeed.  When will we learn that the wisdom of this psalm, the entire Scripture, is timeless?  That mortals always – ALWAYS – “return to the earth” and take their best intentions with them?

The Scripture does not need to be rewritten to accommodate a culture.  The culture – ideally being taught and led by a faithful Church – needs to slow down and stop grasping at straws for meaning.  Indeed the Church herself needs to take a good, long, and hard look at itself from within the wisdom of the Scripture and measure its being and its life accordingly.  And that evaluation can be as simple as this: if a thing (or even a person) has become popular only in our lifetime, its usefulness and relevance will fade soon in favor of another thing – also in our lifetime.

There is One, and only One, who is timeless and who has gone to great lengths to get us to reconnect to one another and to Him through one another; that is the power of the Church.  From the beginning the Holy One has done little more than to ask that we look after one another – even the stranger and the foreigner – pay close attention to His timeless wisdom, and be a better disciple tomorrow than we are today.  “Do not turn to the left or to the right”, The Lord told Joshua, “and you will find the Life I have intended for you.”  In other words, we do not need to make things up according to the contemporary culture – for that culture will pass soon enough when we discover it is only a ruse, a façade with no substance.

“The Lord will reign forever … to all generations!”  This we must know.  This we must believe, for this is the Only Life that will not perish.



Tuesday, April 28, 2015

A Thought for Tuesday 28 April 2015

“If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross, and follow Me.  For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”  Matthew 16:24-25 NKJV

Prior to the moment of this statement, Peter had tried to convince Jesus that He need not subject Himself to the elders, chief priests, and scribes in order to be killed.  Surely Peter meant well when he essentially told Jesus, ‘Think of yourself!’  Jesus then likened Peter’s good intentions to the works of Satan in being more mindful of the “things of men” than of the “things of God” (Matthew 16:21-23).

Walking into dangerous situations would not be considered prudent for us.  We are more inclined to take whatever precautions are necessary to protect ourselves, our property, and those we love.  It is the way of men and must not be confused with the Way of the Cross which is the necessarily the disciple’s path.  We are compelled to follow Jesus wherever that path may lead us and regardless of the risks.

There is another component of this passage that is often overlooked.  We’ve traditionally taught – and have been taught – that Jesus is strictly talking about literally dying for the sake of the Gospel (what we know as ‘martyrdom’).  There is that, of course, but there is so much more.  Before we can die for the Gospel, we must first die to self (Colossians 3:5).  That is, we deliberately put away the things of the flesh, the personal desires, the “things of men” so we are able to make room for the “things of God”.  Jesus teaches us, “You cannot serve two masters”.

Having our lives taken from us against our will and before we are prepared is one thing – and not always noble.  Freely surrendering self for the sake of the Gospel is a whole other matter, for it is the willful sacrifices we make each day for those who are hungry or homeless or jobless or lonely by which we “lose our life for Jesus’ sake” (“Whatever you do for them, you do for Me”) and finally find the Life to which we have been called.  It is much more than a simple profession of faith in church one Sunday.  It is the Life deliberately chosen every single day.  It is giving without counting the cost, without worrying about whether there will be enough left over for our desires, our needs.

When we refuse to tithe (saving up for vacation or a new car), refuse to worship with others (there is the beach or the lake), or refuse to study the Scripture with fellow disciples (I’m already saved), we are mindful of the “things of men”; that is, self.  These are our priorities, and they define the life we have chosen.  It is the life we will soon “lose” whether we like it or not.

Giving freely of ourselves, however, and going out of our way to help someone, to offer our tithe even when we are uncertain about our jobs or investments, to worship with others when we would rather be doing something else, and to study the Scripture with fellow disciples are the “things of God” and the real “pursuit of happiness” and contentment.  Jesus assures us of this.  So each day we ask ourselves, “Do I really trust Him?  Do I really believe?”

Do we?


Monday, April 27, 2015

Christian Ethics and the Virtues of faith: part 2, Hope"

Genesis 7:17-8:1
1 Corinthians 15:50-58
Luke 18:35-43

“Little progress can be made by merely attempting to repress what is evil.  Our great hope lies in developing what is good.”  Calvin Coolidge

As Sir Isaac Newton expressed that for every action, there must be an equal and opposite reaction; there is good and evil, right and wrong, there is also virtue and vice.  It is a shame that it seems more people are aware of the Seven Deadly Sins and not so familiar with the Seven Virtues – both lists coming from the same source (Pope Gregory in the 6th century).  As has also been pointed out, too, the mere absence of vice does not constitute virtue.  Yet we also live in a world that is determined to blur the line between the two – and has been doing so for decades – so that what was once considered vice is now demanding a spot on the virtue list.  And it is admittedly getting harder to tell the difference.

As a matter of Christian ethics and expressing our faith by our virtue, it is important to understand and acknowledge that while our eternal hope rests in The Lord alone, we are nevertheless compelled by our faith to right thinking and acts of mercy and justice.  We must not be at war within ourselves or with one another between the merits of “faith” and “works” as a matter of personal salvation.  After all, if all we care about is “personal” salvation, we’ve already missed the point and have a long way to go toward sanctification. 

Rather we function as a people at peace with The Lord through faith and at peace with our neighbors through our works of justice, mercy, and charity.  We find that peace only through enduring hope.  And we have that hope only in the assurance of our faith.

Hope, however, is not simply some internal feeling we have from time to time when we become aware of something we desire for ourselves.  Much like faith, hope itself cannot be left to sit idle as strictly a “personal” component of our relationship to The Lord only.  We also are connected through Him to one as we become His Church, His very Body, Christ in the world today. 

So if hope is indeed a virtue, an equal and opposite reaction to envy, a component of our being that informs our actions in an ethical way, it requires much more than a simple intellectual acknowledgement.  Hope must be embraced, actively engaged, and made manifest in the Christian life through the Church.

St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians regarding a sense of hope we have at the End of Days when that which was corruptible – flesh and blood – will be raised incorruptible.  Before this time, however, St. Paul offers what is necessary to reach that point at which our mortality will be changed to immortality: “Be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of The Lord, because you know your labor is not in vain” (1 Cor 15:58).  That is, The Lord’s “work” is not for nothing.  It serves a purpose – but not always a personal one.

Like all the other virtues, hope has to be more than a philosophical or religious concept that can only be answered with another concept.  It is actually a lot like the rules of algebra; none of the rules make any sense if they are not learned and then applied.  And if the application of these rules does not become a faithful practice, the rules will soon be forgotten. 

They never really become a part of who we are; they are only something we do once in a while – and we struggle then because the rule or the virtue is an external thing we employ when it suits us rather than to be an internal attribute of the soul … the essence of sanctification, striving to become more Christ-like with every passing day!

Our Bible discussion last Sunday night was an especially lively and challenging one.  We chased a lot of rabbits (!) and didn’t really touch on the chapters we were to be prepared for.  However, it was a good thing because what we are studying are words written on pages in a book.  There is some history and a lot of theology in how Israel’s actions defined their relationship to The Lord on these pages; but because what we are reading took place so long ago in a world completely alien from our own, we struggle with how these words, these concepts can be real to us today.  We struggle to get past the “stories”.

The discussion turned (and I’m still not sure how) to self-defense and personal weapons.  As we went back and forth with ideas about what is acceptable in the sight of The Lord and what we feel is necessary for survival, it occurred to me that we may all be “hope challenged”.  Even though I played the role of “devil’s advocate” in asking whether we will kill for personal protection or die for our faith, we are all painfully aware that we live in a dangerous world.  There are bad people willing to do bad things to get what they want.  This is the harsh and present reality.

Or is it?  While there are certain things we cannot help but to be aware of, I wonder if the reason we are so aware of bad things is because we do not actively engage in good things.  That is, we are set in a simple survival mode against evil forces.  Thus our hope – or whatever there is of it – is misplaced.  We are counting on our marksmanship skills and enough ammo to keep ourselves and our families alive and safe.  BUT at what cost?  And to what end?  We are willing to kill now so we can die on our own terms later? 

Now I am not trying to convince anyone of the blessings or curses of carrying or owning a weapon for personal protection; that is not the point.  The point is a serious evaluation of where our hope truly rests.  Like every other virtue, hope cannot simply be turned on or off on a whim to suit personal desires – AND there can be no faith without hope! 

I think of Noah and his hope.  He had received an assurance that if he would build this massive ark, he and his family would survive the coming flood along with all the animals aboard.  And although he found favor in The Lord’s sight, his survival was not about Noah – it was about The Covenant and the greater world.

Did Noah know how long this deluge would last?  He was told to pack enough food, but what is written at the end of Genesis 6 does not indicate how much food or for how long.  The Lord did tell Noah it would rain for 40 days and nights, but there is no indication Noah was aware that the “waters would swell on the earth for 150 days” (Gen 7:24).  Well beyond the 40 days of rain Noah had been told about.

Then chapter 8 opens with our being told The Lord “remembered” Noah.  Then came the wind and the receding waters.  Do we take from this that The Lord had somehow “forgotten” Noah?  Or do we read more carefully into this that Noah endured for as long as it would be necessary in order to live on The Lord’s terms?  What could he have done about it anyway?  He presumably could not steer the ark.  His only indication of receding waters was the dove that returned with an olive branch. 

We cannot always know exactly how things will turn out nor can we know exactly how long we may have to endure a particularly challenging “season”.  Even as we express our hope in The Lord’s provision for His faithful at the End, we cannot know exactly how things will turn out tomorrow.  Often we “hope” it will be for our personal good or personal comfort, but we are often more disappointed than pleased because we fail to realize our personal desires will never match Divine Will – and the reason is our God and Father is not a “wish granter”.  He shows no partiality.  His purposes, His thoughts, His ways are beyond ours.

Do we abandon hope, then, when we pray diligently for a particular thing but do not get what we prayed for?  Of course not!  Not getting personal wishes granted is a great blessing to our sanctification, our spiritual growth and nurture, because it is through these perceived “failures” we begin to learn more about The Lord’s Will and His ultimate provision – and we learn to align our own thoughts, our own ways, our own purposes with The Lord’s.  Because we are Covenant People, not strictly individuals left to our own.

The blind man in Luke’s story had heard Jesus was headed his way.  And even though folks tried to get him to quiet down, he refused to stop crying out to The Son of David for mercy – for he knew his own “labor would not be in vain”.  He dared to hope.  And when his sight was restored, he devoted his way to the Way of Christ – “glorifying God” on that Way and causing others to praise The Lord as well!  He dared to hope!  And because he dared to hope, he came to believe!

There are some things we can do, some things we must do.  There are also some things we must never do regardless of the noble end we may seek, and all that we discern must be in accordance with where our hope truly is.  Just to get to Heaven when the time comes?  Just to get what we want when we want it?  

We will have to do better than that if the virtue of hope is to become a part of the fabric of our soul.  Because once it is there as a gift imparted from Above, no disaster, no tragedy, no disappointments, no sting of death will move it!

I hope you will make a decision today.  I hope there will be 50 in Bible study tonight.  I hope we will exceed 100 in worship next week and 110 the week after.  I hope people who do not know The Lord will come to know The Lord through the ministry of McNeil and Asbury United Methodist Church.  I hope.  I dare to hope.  And I hope you will as well.  Amen.

A Thought for Monday 27 April 2015

“Again the Israelites did evil in the sight of The Lord, and The Lord delivered them into the hand of the Philistines for forty years.”  Judges 13:1

In our continuing Sunday evening study of the book of Judges, we find a redundant cycle of behavior of a people who forget from generation to generation who they really are.  They go rogue from The Lord, they get into trouble and find themselves oppressed, they cry out to The Lord to be rescued, The Lord comes to their aid by raising up a judge to lead them, there is a period of peace until the judge dies, and Israel “again” does evil in the sight of The Lord.

There are a couple of items worth noting.  (1) Toward the end of the Exodus journey and prior to taking possession of the Promised Land, Moses admonished the people of Israel to teach their children from generation to generation about the bondage in Egypt and The Lord’s mighty acts in freeing them lest they forget.  And remember: this practice is as much about the adults who are teaching as it is about the children who need to learn!  (2) During the Exodus journey The Lord taught Israel about proper worship by giving them a particular order of worship, a liturgy to follow.  Each commandment has a purpose beyond the simple establishment of what constitutes “proper” worship.

Israel would be taking possession of a strange land of strange people with strange gods and detestable worship practices, including human sacrifice.  So what The Lord had been teaching His people during the journey would be important for them to learn, embrace, and teach so they remember who they are and where they came from.  Both practices, corporate worship and family devotional time, are necessary so that the people remember their place in a much broader context.

Somewhere along the way, after the death of Joshua, Israel lost sight of all this.  It seems unlikely anyone remembered these practices, and they only turned to The Lord when things got tough.  They took advantage of The Lord’s benevolent nature but turned away time and again once the danger passed.  They neglected these simple practices and thus neglected a necessary, ongoing relationship with The Lord.

It is foolish and dangerous to believe Jesus overcame this reality and removed us from the necessity of corporate worship, study of the Scripture, and family devotional time.  Each component has meaning beyond the moment even if those practices sometimes seem repetitive, even boring.  We are not being “legalistic” when we adhere to a particular standard of worship; we are being faithful in trusting that we will learn more and more about The Lord so we may emulate Him to the wider world.

Israel came to believe, it seems, that simply being among the “chosen” would somehow magically protect them from all harm.  In their failure to adhere to an established worship standard (doing evil and following other gods and worship practices) and teach their children as Moses had commanded, they became completely cut off from their heritage.  Maybe they convinced themselves they were “too busy” or that they would get around to it later.  Maybe they dropped their children off at a local synagogue and expected the religion teachers to do their thing, failing to understand the fullness of all their forebears had learned in the wilderness: that it is not an either/or decision to teach at home or just “go to worship”.  It is necessarily both/and – not simply because it is commanded but because every component has meaning worthy of being taught and learned again just as every commandment has meaning beyond its own words.  We must never come to believe we have “outgrown” Sunday school, group Bible study, and worship.  One is never “saved” enough to remove oneself from the Holy Presence and from the support of the faith community.  Our children and our grandchildren learn from what we DO, not what we say.

If we are not faithful to The Lord and His established practices, we will simply make something up that seems good to us – the very curse that followed the people of Israel during the time of the Judges – and ultimately cutting ourselves off from “The Vine” from which we come (“Apart from Me you can do nothing”).

There is a third component of Israel’s failure: “each did what seemed right in his own eyes”.  Some may have convinced themselves they were being faithful in their own way, but the context and the harsh lessons learned seem to indicate very clearly that their own way was in no way, shape, or form The Lord’s established way.  Often we try some short cuts or add some new and trendy thing to try and convince a godless culture that we’re hip and relevant.  They only see us as fools trying to be popular with them rather than being faithful to The God we claim to serve.  Those earnestly seeking The Lord see through the façade.

There is much to learn from Israel’s past, much that is completely relevant to us today.  We might like to convince ourselves we are much more enlightened, much more “saved” than they were; but a more careful and closer look would say we are as stiff-necked and stubborn as Israel ever thought about being.  The only thing that has changed over the centuries has been technology; people are still pretty much the same.

If we are to ever find our way as a people, as The Church, we must believe everything we have been taught from the very beginning has meaning for us even these thousands of years beyond.  None of it will be magically imparted; we have to reach for it, search for it, ask for it.  Only then, Jesus teaches, will we receive what we ask for.  Otherwise we are turned over to ourselves and our own practices – and then we will really get exactly what we ask for!

Let us learn to ask for right things, proper things, good and fulfilling worship.  And let us always remember it isn’t about “me”.  It is always about The Lord, His Eternal Covenant, and His Eternal Kingdom.  Believe this, and we will find our place.



Wednesday, April 22, 2015

A Thought for Wednesday 22 April 2015

“The Lord took the man (Adam) and put him in the Garden of Eden to tend and keep it.”  Genesis 1:15

On this day in 1970, the first Earth Day was observed in the US.  The idea came from US Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin, and it led to the establishment of the US Environmental Protection Agency in July of that same year.  The whole idea was to raise awareness of pollution and the continuing degradation of our air, land, and water.

Regardless of how we may feel about this particular US agency today, we nevertheless recognize the sense of stewardship in protecting and preserving natural resources intended for all The Lord’s creation, not a select few.  Looking more closely at the very serious problem of pollution at the time, the US government intervened to force Americans to do what The Lord had charged humanity to do in the first place: protect The Lord’s creation for the good of The Lord’s creatures. 

The Lord gave man unlimited access to every tree in the Garden from which he was allowed to eat, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil being the one exception.  The Lord did not tell Adam why he would not be allowed to eat from that particular tree; Adam was told only that he would die if he did.

Traditionally we have been taught that the whole creation story and the Garden was a cautionary tale of obedience to The Lord.  The Lord says “don’t” and so we don’t - not because we understand why but because we trust The Lord.  Yet we also know of the cautionary tale of “forbidden fruit”; that which we are forbidden to partake in often becomes what we desire all the more. 

We also read of The Lord’s intent that humanity was “put in the Garden to tend and keep it”.  For humanity it would soon become a struggle between doing what needs to done – and doing what one pleases regardless of the consequences.  Adam did not literally die when he ate of the “forbidden fruit”, but the life he was given (the life The Lord intended for him) was indeed taken from him.  Humanity was ejected from Paradise and essentially given the life they seemed to desire more: to do as they please when they please.  What was given to humanity for humanity’s well-being was taken in favor of humanity being forced to try and provide for itself what was once provided.  All that was asked of the humans was that what had been given should be tended, cared for, and protected for the good of all.  As long as Adam was willing to see faithfully to The Lord’s charge, The Lord would see to his every provision.

I do not suggest the EPA was established by The Lord’s command.  Maybe it was.  Maybe the US senator was a praying man, or maybe he was just a tree hugger with a profound sense of stewardship in understanding that some resources given from Above may have limitations.  Whether they do or not is not the issue.  The issue is the Church’s charge to recognize the Life we are offered vs. the life we may choose for ourselves.  One preserves Life; the other threatens life as we know it.

To choose life, as Moses admonished the people of Israel, is to choose much more than one’s individual existence.  It is to choose responsible stewardship of all creation, all resources for the good of all The Lord’s creation.  One is not “more entitled” than another.  Humanity as a whole is entitled by The Lord’s command.

Let us learn to take nothing for granted.  We must learn to appreciate every tree, every blade of grass, and every drop of water; for if we do believe in The Creation Story by the hand of The Almighty, then surely we can appreciate every nuance of that same Creation Story.  How we treat all of Creation, whether by preservation or exploitation, is the measure of our belief in Creation vs. evolution: what was once given as “good” and sufficient, and what soon became necessary adjustments in order to survive in an environment outside of The Lord’s provision.

Let us become “tenders” and “keepers” of what is entrusted to our charge, and let us learn to accept The Lord’s creation on all its own terms rather than our own.  It is the difference between having fruit and having only thorns and thistles.



Tuesday, April 21, 2015

A Thought for Tuesday 21 April 2015

“See that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.”   Ephesians 5:15-16

This passage was on my mind Monday as I was driving to and from Sheridan to attend the funeral of an uncle.  This was a special man, a good man who lived a life worthy of attention and profound respect.  He was no preacher nor a missionary; not a doctor nor a constitutional scholar.  I doubt many know much about him beyond his family and friends.  Yet the impact such a life well lived can have on others is without measure.

When St. Paul is encouraging us to “walk circumspectly”, he is encouraging us not to simply respond to the world around us on some sense of “auto pilot” in which we are more likely to react according to pure instinct.  The reason this can be dangerous for the disciple is that our instincts, which are largely animalistic in nature, can deceive us.  We don’t take in what we observe nor consider how we can derive some experience and life lesson from what we see.  We only react according to whether we like what we observe or not, whether we consider it a threat or not, whether what we see is useful to us personally or not.  We respond according to what we think rather than what we actually know.  And there is a big difference!

We are pretty good that way in that we make snap judgments based only on appearances or a few brief encounters.  Sometimes we can be right on the money, but more often than not there is much we do not know and will never know unless or until we take the time to learn.  Rather than admit this, however, we prefer to stand on “common sense” and insist anyone can see what is clearly on display – unless they are idiots!

My uncle was a working man, a craftsman.  He was also without pretense.  His life and his love for his family, his friends, and his church were genuine.  What’s more, this man never took anything for granted.  He noticed much more than many would have given him credit for, and what he learned from what he observed has translated to his remarkable children (one of whom chose to be a “Big Brother”), his grandchildren, and (hopefully) at least one nephew. 

So when I evaluate this man and his life “circumspectly”, I see evidence of what Jesus meant when He taught that “a good tree cannot bear bad fruit”.  A life measured in faith and in love – and in accordance to a standard established from Above – will always reproduce itself … just as surely as a “bad tree will bear bad fruit”.  Hatefulness, vindictiveness, spite, petty jealousies, and gossip can only be stopped by justice, mercy, love, and courage borne of faith in something much greater.

This was my uncle and my own lesson for today which I gladly share.  There is so much goodness in this world and in the people we come into contact with, but we will rarely notice it if the only thing we are concerned with are outward appearances and our own snap (and often, miscalculated) judgments.  More often than not, we are just dead wrong because we rely on pure instinct rather than on wisdom.

Let us dare to pay more attention to the world around us, and let us learn to give others more of a chance to prove themselves to be of sacred worth – because they are in the sight of The Lord.  When we fail to recognize this, we cheat only ourselves out of something much greater.



Monday, April 20, 2015

A Thought for Monday 20 April 2015

“The Lord is far from the wicked, but He hears the prayers of the righteous.”  Proverb 15:29

When we think of “wicked” persons doing “wicked” things, we think of those who are actively engaged in destructive behavior.  They are not simply “not nice”; they are deliberately mean.  They set out to do harm either physically or emotionally.  These “wicked” persons take some perverted pleasure in hurting people.

Conversely, the proverb also speaks of the “righteous”.  In the contrasting context, then, we are compelled to look at two opposing forces.  Neither is ambivalent.  Both are actively engaged: one in good, the other in evil.

It is important, then, to recognize the language in the strongest possible terms.  The “righteous” are not simply those who believe (“even demons believe and tremble”); they are actively engaged in good works.  They are “doers of the Law” and not simply hearers.  They are actively engaged in a moral life of justice and mercy.  These are the ones whose prayers are heard.

We let ourselves off the hook too often for simply claiming that Jesus’ righteousness is our salvation.  This is true, of course, but we must also recognize the depth of faith involved in a life of discipleship: active engagement in Jesus’ life right up to the bitter, and yet glorious end.  Our time on this earth is short compared to the Life we are being prepared for in the world to come.  So we must live intentionally, purposefully, and reverently in the Life to which we are called; the life that emulates Jesus’ own life.  “And those who endure to the end will be saved”.


Sunday, April 19, 2015

Christian Ethics and the Seven Virtues: part I, Humility

2 Chronicles7:11-16
James 4:1-10
Mark 9:30-37

“Humility is the foundation of all virtues, so in the soul in which this virtue does not exist, there cannot be any other virtue except in mere appearance.”  St. Augustine of Hippo

In other words, we can put on a show for others, but virtue will not be a part of who we really are.

As “pride goes before destruction” (Prov 16:18) and opens the “wide gate” to all other of the so-called Seven Deadly Sins, so also “humility before honor” (Prov 15:33) is the “narrow way” to the necessary attributes of the disciple: faith, hope, charity, fortitude, justice, prudence, and temperance. 

But what is humility, really?  What does it mean to “humble oneself” to The Lord … or to anyone, for that matter?  Jesus teaches that if it is Divine Favor we seek, and we should, we must first be willing to be “last of all” and “servant of all” – not only to a select few.  How do we seek Divine Favor by intentionally not seeking Divine Favor?

Pastor and author Rick Warren believes, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less”.  A general consensus would suggest that our view of our own importance would be in deference to the importance of others.  We don’t think less of ourselves; we just think more of others.  As Jesus teaches the Twelve who would soon become the Church, we of that same Church, that same tradition, must be willing to be “last of all” and “servant to all” if we want to be “first” in the Kingdom of Heaven. 

This would be summarized in such a way: if we honestly believe we are better than someone else, more deserving than anyone else – by any measure or means – we lack humility, and consequently, all other virtues; and “destruction” will follow – if the Bible is correct.  One way or the other, we will be humbled – by our own choice and deliberate practice or by some external agent against our will.  

It is one thing to have confidence enough in something that gives us motivation, drive, and a certain sense of fearlessness to do what needs to be done regardless of the risk.  It is another thing altogether, however, to cross that fine line from confidence to arrogance.  It is the difference between trusting The Lord completely, enough to obey Him without question – or trusting ourselves primarily.  WE become the masters.  It is that point of distinction between a necessary sense of gratitude for anything we may have and a sense of entitlement for everything we think we deserve. 

We should not be thinking of ways to beat ourselves up when we are so richly blessed.  We must instead be thinking of ways to build up others through those blessings.  If we believe we are so richly blessed because The Lord favors us personally, we deny the biblical reality that The Lord shows no partiality.  We are blessed for purposes beyond our own “selfish ambitions”

When we stop worrying so much about ourselves, we will find more time and more room for The Lord in our lives.  We will find The Lord more prominent – and dominant – in our lives.  And that is what we are looking for.

Here is an interesting thought I was made aware of this past week.  In Leviticus 10 we are told of Aaron’s sons who had “performed the [fire] ritual correctly but had not done so as a "commandment" - that is, they had not consulted Moses to see whether it was The Lord's intent that they offer the fire … it is a reminder that the way the priests - and we today - serve The Lord is not only … by [doing things properly], but also [in doing properly we express] our intention to fulfill a command of The Lord [to an end greater than the means done properly].”  Rabbi Richard N. Levy

As Holy Communion is to serve a holy purpose, we may even consider the ways in which we add or remove from what is written in the Scripture to suit our own, less-than-holy purposes.

This is significant for us.  Moses reminded the grieving Aaron as his sons had been consumed by the fire they had tried to offer, “Through those who are near Me I will show Myself holy, and before all the people I will be glorified” (Lev 10:3) … not “you”.  The text seems to suggest the sons of Aaron were out of line in offering “unholy fire” perhaps because they got a little too full of themselves in their capacity as priests.  They were not offering fire to reveal The Lord’s glory; they were offering fire to enhance their own glory and were ultimately destroyed by their own means.

Genuine humility serves a holy purpose but only if humility itself is considered a means to a greater end – growing in faith and confidence in The Lord and in love for our neighbor, opening the “narrow door” to genuine virtue and closing tight the “wide gate” to vice.  As the Church Fathers and other philosophers believed and taught, if humility is lacking in us, so will virtue itself be lacking.  And The Lord nor our neighbors are lifted up. 

And I think this is what St. James must be alluding to.  He writes (3:16), “Where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind”.  Opening chapter 4, James writes of the “conflicts and selfish disputes” within the fellowship of the Church.  Do you suppose the reason there are so many disputes in the local church today is because what we seek, what we desire most, what we are willing to invest in and work toward, is what we want for ourselves (4:5), with no mind or concern about what The Lord may actually want from the church?

Even with limited resources one group wants “this”, another group wants “that”, and still another group thinks “another” thing is what the church needs most (none admitting it is strictly what they desire) – but the desire of each group has nothing to do with the overall mission and need of the Church.  Our personal desires are more about making the “club” more pleasing to ourselves.  Nothing has to do with striving to make The Lord look good (which is what it means to “glorify” The Lord) or conveying His mercy. 

We want what WE want for our own self-pleasure or sense of self-satisfaction.  And because we are unique individuals with unique tastes, there is no way – NO WAY! – we will be able to come together for the common purpose to which we as The Church are called, the common purpose we each vowed toward when we joined HIS Church … in humble submission to The Lord and His Church and, yes, His Moral Law.

Somewhere along the line, being a long-time member of the Church has come to mean special privilege according to personal demands.  Somewhere along the way, The Lord has all but been kicked to the curb of the Church with hardly a notice, and yet we curse and protest and worry that The Lord was somehow kicked out of public schools because they won’t make the kids pray! 

This is strictly about being more mindful of and more sensitive to what offends us personally rather than about what will teach others about the true nature of The Lord and His open arms to all sinners through the Church.  In worrying more about public schools than the Church we serve, we reveal our own less-than-humble nature.  And that’s when we know we are in danger of crossing – or already have crossed - that line from spiritual confidence to personal arrogance.  Both the Church and those who need The Lord will suffer.
It is not about “you” nor “you” nor even “me”.  It never was, as Aaron and his sons were reminded.  It is entirely about how the holiness, the perfection, the abundant mercy of The Lord will be revealed through us and not strictly for us.  This is the essence of humility and the foundation of all virtue, including faith. 

As we intentionally choose to “descend”, we will soon find ourselves “ascending” by the might and the mercy of The Lord.  Let us choose to be lifted rather than to lift ourselves in vain.  If we choose to elevate or lift ourselves by our own chosen means, the fall is imminent – in this life or the next.  But when we are so lifted by The Lord, lifted us where we will stay. 

For all glory and honor are yours, Almighty Father, now and forever.  Amen.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Messiah Complex

“If you don't choose heroes, heroes will be chosen for you.  They will not represent values that empower you; they will represent powers that will enslave you”.  Russell Brand, “My Booky Wook”

Ok, so Russell Brand is not exactly a philosopher one would take seriously.  He is an entertainer.  Speaking to the dangers of what is often referred to as “messiah complex”, however, Brand’s observation goes to the heart of a big empty place in the collective heart of America.  It may also speak to the failure of the American Church (all denominations collectively) to make known the One – the only One - who is the eternally “anointed” of the Most High God (the Living Word become flesh), we of the individual churches being much more concerned with our own agendas in doing whatever it will take to get folks to come to our own church.

The “messiah complex” is understood as a psychological state of mind in which one believes oneself to be, or has a desire to be, the answer to everyone’s prayers (my own summary definition based on several, some professional, observations).  These persons are not necessarily psychologically unstable.  They just have egos that need to be tested and possibly checked.  Given that these individuals will not do so voluntarily (genuine humility does not seem to be among their strong suits), however, it is encumbent on us to vet these pretenders very carefully lest they be allowed to become the “power that will enslave you”.   

The Hebrew word “messiah” itself means “anointed” (“christ” in Greek) and should not be confused with “savior”, as the term itself is not unique to Jesus of Nazareth.  Moses was “anointed” to his special task.  King Saul was “anointed” as was King David, but none were designated a “savior”; only as leaders under The Lord’s sovereign authority.  These men were anointed to unite The Lord’s people and to serve as conduits to The Lord’s provision.  They were to lead The Lord’s people to face their enemies; but by their faith in The Lord’s providence and their willingness to obey The Lord, they would be “saved”. 

Consider also one who is “anointed” to preach.  This “anointing” does not render a preacher a “savior” – far from it!  Within the context of the Church, and according to certain spiritual gifts, it means an individual has been deemed adequately gifted to speak on behalf of the One True Savior – The Lord alone.  This “anointed” person then uses his or her unique gifts and talents to that singular end.  The task to which these are anointed is not about making a congregation feel good about themselves nor the preacher; it is entirely about helping a congregation to feel good enough about The Lord to fully trust in The Word.

The advent of the presidential election season is upon us; and listening to these aspiring candidates and the lofty promises they are already making, we must be especially careful not to jump too quickly on any particular band wagon.  These candidates are self-anointed, and each is speaking strictly in his or her own behalf.  Each one claims to be the answer to all our problems.  The problem with this, however, is that we do not have a multitude of problems even though we face many challenges. 

We as a nation have only a single problem: we are entirely too individually oriented toward self.  In such a state, then, we are likely to believe anyone who strikes a chord with us personally, and that allegiance will be based on little more than stated promises.  We will not demand that these candidates spell out for us exactly how they will attain a certain goal.  We do not care about the details; we only like the idea.  For instance, we may collectively agree Social Security must be reformed for the sake of the whole nation.  We will not agree, however, to take any less than what we believe we are entitled to.

Even beyond this, consider how much time and energy these candidates expend trying to convince us of who is to blame for any and all problems!  Rather than to demand these same candidates show (not tell) us exactly what they will do, we will allow these persons to demonize a political opponent.  We fail to see that such efforts seem more focused on that candidate’s lack of legitimate credentials even as they try to convince us the opponent is really the one who is lacking.  And we fall for it every time.  “Thus they will be known by their fruits.”

In the biblical anointing, each designated “messiah” had a common purpose rather than a unique task for a particular time.  Each was anointed to unite the people; the whole people, not segments of the people.  Moses worked to that end.  King David did, and so did Jesus.  It was never about the individual; it was always about the congregation of the people and building up their confidence in The Lord as a people.  When their faith wavered, the whole people suffered.  When a few rebelled against The Lord’s Law, the whole people suffered.

Yet we are constantly facing self-designated “messiahs” today who are not working to unite us as a nation.  They are much more diligent about not only trying to make us afraid of one another or a whole opposing party (Democrat vs. Republican); they are also trying to convince us that they alone have all the answers.  Too often we let them get away with it because we fall for their empty words, charisma, physical appearance, or family connections.  They are much more likely to tell us what they think we want to hear.  Few have the courage to tell us what we need to know.

Jesus did tell us what we need to know.  Trusting that alone will be our salvation in the end.  All other pretenders are merely seasons to come and go (Ecclesiastes 3).  We will do well to know the difference.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Christian Ethics and the Virtues of Faith

Leviticus 19:9-19a
James 2:8-20
Matthew 7:13-27

“Politics is not the task of a Christian.”  Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Ironically, in light of Bonhoeffer’s observation and opinion, these past few weeks have seen politics in America sink to levels that surprised even me – and I’m a political cynic!  The Religious Freedom Restoration debates in Arkansas and Indiana saw not the worst of humanity but, actually, the worst of Christianity – from both sides, each claiming to speak in Jesus’ name! 

This dark period was capped with a cherry on top by a self-described “evangelist” from AZ who baited a bakery in FL.  When the bakery declined his request for a particular cake, believing it to be a prank call, this “messenger of the Gospel” (which is what an “evangelist” is supposed to be) hit social media to highlight this “godless” bakery that denied him a certain cake with a certain caption for a certain cause (the “cause” – and his Christian “credentials” - were lost due to this guy’s vindictiveness!).  Soon this man’s followers from all over the country were calling this bakery, threatening their business, and threatening their lives - all in the name of Jesus!

I cannot help but to wonder how this bakery must have felt about this particular “God” whose followers threatened to kill them and their families, or burn down their business and homes?  It is not unlike how we typically question the “God” of Islam, judging by the very public and barbaric behavior of those who claim allegiance to “Allah”. 

How do you suppose others view our God, judging by our public behavior?  It is a question every person of faith is compelled to ask … and then answer truthfully.  Funny how we believe in grace when we talk about our own sins, but we absolutely believe in and uphold the Law when it comes to the sins of others. 

Admittedly lately we Christians have been taking it on the chin and feel like we are being needlessly bullied and taunted and unfairly treated, which is the sentiment driving this Religious Freedom Restoration.  These political initiatives, we are told (by politicians, incidentally), are designed to protect us from being compelled by secular law to violate the Divine law.  It is a political push-back against what we’ve decided is a political fight – not a moral cause. 

Jesus, however, never asked us to push back.  Nor did our Lord advise us to go to “Caesar” whenever we get our noses out of joint.  Actually in our political quest to fight a moral fight we believe to be right, we seem inclined to go directly to “Caesar”.  And we always expect “them” to be straightened out … because “we” are not the problem.  Right?

Remembering the prophets spoke to Israel, before and during the Exile, within the context of the only Scripture they would have known, the Torah, it can be so written, “[The Lord] has told you, O mortal, what is good [through Torah]; and [according to the law] what does The Lord require of you but to DO justice, to LOVE kindness, and to WALK humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).    

Now it might be our inclination to say, ‘That’s it.  That’s all there is to it; just be nice’.   However, this statement is packed with the entirety of the “royal law according to the Scripture”, as St. James points out and as Jesus affirms: “In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets” (Matthew 7:12). 

We are not admonished to merely refrain from evil acts, although it would be a good start.  We are compelled and commanded toward purposeful acts of justice, deliberate acts of kindness, and intentional acts of humility – all as a reflection of how we understand our God and our relationship to our God according to The Word (“the Word which was in the beginning”, the Word which was revealed at Mt. Sinai, the Word “which became flesh”).

What “evangelism” has become for the church, however, is a twisted idea of what may be more appropriately classified as “superstition” rather than faith.  Rather than to hear St. James’ admonition as it is written in its entirety instead of a few select verses – to a church that should have known better according to the only Scripture they would have known, the Torah - our sense of “evangelism” has twisted James’ words.  We do not say to those who are “naked and lacking daily food” to “go in peace and eat your fill”.  We are more likely to say, “Get a job, make your own peace, and buy your own fill”.

OR we may make the necessary doctrinal correction by saying to those who are “lacking”, “Just accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior, and all will be well with you.  Then you can go in peace and eat your fill”.  We have left them just as we had found them, “naked and hungry”, but we have convinced ourselves we have fulfilled the Great Commission when, in fact, we’ve done nothing at all … nothing meaningful to them, nothing useful for them.

Do you notice how “hate speech” has become so defined in the politically correct world to include passages from the Bible, especially the prohibitive passages?  When we rightly stand opposed to what we believe the Scripture is clear about, I wonder if the reason our objections are not taken seriously is because our own chosen words and efforts lack “Gospel” substance.  We have so busied ourselves in trying to do spiritual warfare by political means that we have lost any sense of some fundamental principles of what we, as the Church, are called to actually do

“Get saved” is not one of them; “save others” is, however, many of them.

Now I know there are many with an understanding of “righteousness” in that our “works” will not earn Divine favor; that we are not justified by what we do – we are justified by what The Lord will do.  I get that, and I sincerely hope you do, also.  I think, however, that we are missing the point when we look at the “royal law” so narrowly as to miss entirely the fullness of the Gospel.  There has to come a point at which it is no longer about “me”.  I frankly wonder if it was ever about “me” at all – but more about those we will come into contact with after we are justified and filled with the Holy Spirit and within our knowledge of the written Word Itself – rather than the words we’ve made up.

For the next few weeks we will explore what are known as the Seven Virtues.  These Virtues were once considered the essential characteristics of the Christian but are today – especially post-Reformation - all but forgotten by a Church that seems more familiar with the Seven Deadly Sins and those who are so guilty.  Considering St. James’ context of the “royal law according to the Scripture”, if the words and principles of the Bible are indeed timeless as we like to believe, it is time to reach back to some fundamentals and add substance to our being as The Body of Christ. 

It is maddening and madness to witness what the so-called “social progressives” are doing to The Word in their feeble attempts to make The Word relevant to an unbelieving culture, but I cannot say we so-called “conservatives” are doing The Word much justice ourselves when all we do is “push back” - angrily.  Are we not called to “counter-act” evil with acts of goodness, grace, and mercy rather than to respond to evil with evil acts of our own? 

An evil act, even by the hands of a righteous person, is still by its nature an evil act.

I think we can do better.  I know we must do better.  Jesus expressed in the Sermon on the Mount, “Everyone who hears My words AND acts on them will be like the wise man …” (Mt 7:24), St. Paul expressed in his epistle to the Romans, “It is not the hearers of the law who are righteous in The Lord’s sight, but the DOERS of the law who will be justified”, {ooh, that’s gotta sting!} (Rm 2:13), and St. James affirmed in his epistle, “Be DOERS of the Word and not merely hearers” (Jas 1:22). 

It is time to hear the Word and then respond appropriately, graciously, humbly, and purposefully rather than to allow the Word to just sit idle.  There is no component of the Church – NONE – not parties, not potlucks, not fundraisers that can exist without an outreach element and deliberate effort.  NOT ONE, NOT EVER.  Everything we do, without exception, is an expression of what we know about The Word of our God – and that’s what people see … and believe.

When – and only when – we are true to the Eternal Word will we find true meaning in The Word in our own lives and in the Life that is the Church.  And we will, according to that same Word, be richly blessed beyond human measure - but only if we believe and fully trust and act in The Word, the same Word which “was in the beginning”, the same Word revealed at Mt. Sinai, the same Word “which became flesh”.  The Eternal – and unchanging – Word.

In the Holy and Eternal Name, and according to the Living Word, let the people of the Church declare, “Amen” – “let it be so”.

Monday, April 06, 2015

Easter 2015: "What we see"

Mark 16:1-8
Nehemiah 8:1-10

"Let everyone count themselves immortal.  Let everyone catch the revelation of Jesus in His Resurrection.  Let them say not only, ‘Christ is risen’; let them also say, ‘I shall one day be raised!’”  Phillips Brooks, 19th-century Episcopal priest & bishop

It is one thing to remember the Resurrection of Messiah from a safe distance; that Jesus was murdered and has come back to life.  That is a “surface” observation – not untrue, of course, but it barely scratches the surface of the whole Story.  We have to get much closer in order to appreciate the depth and the breadth of all there is to see.  As the 19th-century priest and bishop had observed, we are witnessing much more than the Resurrection of Messiah.

There is also a challenge for those who dare to hope to “one day be raised”.

The psalmist observes, “The Lord exists forever; Your Word is firmly fixed in Heaven” (119:89).  The psalmist also writes, “If Your law (Word) had not been my delight, I would have perished in my misery” (119:92).  St. John’s Gospel then introduces Jesus by proclaiming “The [same] Word became flesh and lived among us … [that same Word] full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

We are indeed witnessing much more than the Resurrection of a Man.  The Bible records more than one whose life had been miraculously restored not only by Jesus.  So the “more” we must learn to see is what the discipline of Lent and Holy Week reveals to us when we participate faithfully.  The “more” must be desired and actively sought after as we move through the Easter season and beyond.

We are beginning to see the “more” as Jesus marched to Golgotha despite His desire to “have this cup taken from [Him]” (Luke 22:42), but we have to draw near enough that His prayer in the Garden becomes our own.  We must be willing to experience His anguish for ourselves as He pleaded for His own life (which was denied Him, incidentally, for something greater), and we must ourselves sweat His “sweat as drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44). 

These things – without exception – must come before there can be a “resurrection” of any kind.  As our Methodist tradition maintains, we cannot jump straight from Birth (Christmas) to Resurrection without having first experienced death – and I do not mean only the “casket” death we will all face.

Somewhere along the way the Church has collectively suffered from what Bible scholar and theologian Walter Brueggemann calls “progressive amnesia”.  That is, the more enlightened we think we are, the more we think we know, the more “progressive” we think ourselves to have become, the further away we have roamed from the very simple and yet profound and Eternal Truth. 

We must first die to self.  We must first freely surrender our flesh and its desires, and submit fully and unreservedly to The Living Word which is Chris because it is written in Galatians, “The flesh craves anything that is opposed to the Spirit and the Spirit craves anything opposed to the flesh, for they both are contrary to one another” (5:17).  The Spirit and the flesh are not in any manner compatible.

In our “progressive amnesia”, however, we have managed to convince ourselves we can somehow be both fully alive in our flesh with all its worldly desires and demands, and still be somehow fully alive in the Spirit.  The reality of “progressive amnesia” reveals that our “first love” experiences have faded, and the “marriage” between the Bridegroom, who is Christ, and the Bride, which is the Church, has been dangerously neglected to the point of “irreconcilable differences”.

Evangelism is a $20 word few in the Church really understand – or care to understand.  We think (or prefer) it be a task reserved only for a select few who are specifically called and gifted to this ministry of “making outsiders into insiders” (Brueggemann), but that is not correct.  It is the Task of the Whole and Holy Church to not only “make outsiders into insiders” but to also “summon insiders to [restored] memory” (Brueggemann).

In order to recapture this memory, then, the sense and urgency of evangelism must be re-envisioned and reawakened in “perfect submission” – not “progressively” but faithfully and consistently.  There is no component of the Church, no program, no committee – NONE – that can be separated from the essential mission of the Church which is evangelism – TELLING the Good News.  Family life, membership care, even administrative and finance functions must all work toward the task of evangelism – both inside the church and out. 

But before we can – or should even try – to recapture that urgency, we must be willing to see everything in the Resurrection of Messiah there is to see … because we cannot tell it if we never saw it – and we cannot share it if we refuse to experience it ourselves.

During the rebuilding period of Ezra/Nehemiah, the people of Israel were being reminded of what “progressive amnesia” had done to them.  The restoration of Jerusalem and the Temple as the central feature of their being as the people of The Lord would not only require a lot of hard work and devotion to the task at hand, but they would also have to have their memory restored.  They had to distance themselves from their present reality in order to reconnect to their past, find their roots, and learn to stand on the foundation long established and still present – but long forgotten. 

The Rebuild / Reconnect / Restore Process required – and requires still - that The Word of The Lord be “resurrected”, in a manner of speaking – not “progressively” adjusted or modified to fit the times – because the “times”, such as they are, are fleeting and passing.  The Word is to be embraced, lived, and experienced as though there is no other Way (as Jesus is The Way) – indeed for the faithful there is no other way as it is undeniably written, “Your Word, O Lord, is firmly fixed in Heaven.”  That is, Eternal and thus unchanging.

The challenge of the Church is that this same Word must be “firmly fixed” and faithfully lived to the bitter end “on earth as it is in Heaven” – even at the expense of our own lives, our own “sweat as drops of blood”.

The Resurrection reveals and promises much more than the mere restoration of the body.  We will witness the “glorified form” of the Body of Christ in its perfection – having given His all without ever lashing out, striking back, or making personal demands.  Living the Word, BEING the Word.  It is The Resurrected Word perfected in Jesus’ faithfulness which has been raised to Glory.  It is the Eternal Word which “is seated at the Right Hand of The Almighty God”.  It is the Eternal Word which will come to “judge the living and the dead” (as in, “Lord, Lord, did we not?” … “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practiced lawlessness”).

The enduring love of our Eternal God and Savior is the Resurrection of the Eternal Word “firmly fixed” on earth in Messiah – and in His disciples.  The profound Love in that Word would not – could not – be buried even by those who once rejected that Word according to the desires of the flesh.  What we see – if we dare to look – is that Word which is by its very nature indestructible in its faithfulness!  As will be all who embrace and experience this Word as their very own “delight”!!  AMEN.

A Thought, 6 April 2015

“The same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the religious leaders, Jesus came and stood in the midst and said to them, ‘Peace be with you’.  When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side.  Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.  So Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace to you!  As the Father has sent Me, I also send you’.  And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained’.”  John 20:19-23 NKJV

“He is risen!” 

The familiar Easter mantra.  It is what we celebrate.  That which we usually refer to as “the final resting place” (the grave) is apparently not so final after all.  Jesus was killed, He was buried, and then He was raised from the grave.  The fat lady has not yet sung!

Still, what does it mean to us?  There are theological and doctrinal answers as to what we are told it is supposed to mean, but that does not answer what it actually means to the individual.  Depending on whom we ask, we will get all kinds of answers; but it usually falls on the side of “excuse”. 

“It means I don’t have to go to church.”

“It means I don’t have to obey The Lord’s Law.”

“It means I don’t have to do the religious thing.”

“It means I don’t have to do anything I don’t feel like doing.”

The tiresome list goes on for us, and it is all true; we don’t have to do anything.  Yet the disciples were not given much time to come up with their list of things they no longer “have to” do.  Hiding in fear for having been associated with this “blasphemer”, these guys were not thinking of lists.  In their fear they were trying to process what Mary Magdalene had come from the empty tomb to share (John 20:18).   Just as they were trying to wrap their minds around Mary’s report and all they had likely heard also from Peter and John, probably asking themselves what it all means, Jesus showed up and told them exactly what it means:  “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”

With the Gift of the Holy Spirit and authority from Above to deal with the real power of sin, the Church has been so commissioned.  Not “these guys” or “some guys” – THE CHURCH, the Body of Christ!  According to the One who had been sent, all who claim allegiance are so sent.

It is past time to get over this notion of what The Resurrection means to “me”.  One’s personal witness, while important but when separated from the whole of the Church, becomes disconnected from the “Vine” (John 15:5).  Once the “branch” is completely disengaged from the Body (the “Vine”), it begins to wither and can no longer bear “fruit”.

We have not been saved from anything (even though we are “being saved”, 1 Corinthians 1:18); we have been called to something much greater, much bigger than self, much more important than simply “me”! 

Jesus was no “lone ranger” nor was He seeking “lone rangers”, so we should not fool ourselves into believing we are a church unto ourselves.  There is so much more for us, but we have to want it enough to reach for it.  So reach!