Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Church, the Body, the Cross, the Christ

Isaiah 38:15-20
Ephesians 2:1-10
Matthew 16:13-27

Pope Francis is an anomaly to the traditional standards of the Church.  Unlike John Paul II or even Benedict who were very clear about what they opposed, Francis does not often seem to go in that direction.  In a sense, then, I see a lot of Francis’ conflicts in the same light of Jesus’ conflicts with the religious authorities of His day. 

There is, however, a particular thing Francis has been extremely vocal about.  “We must not reduce the bosom of the universal church to a nest that protects our mediocrity.”  Pope Francis

I’ve heard it said more than once that “if your church had this or would do that, we would attend.”  To which we can only answer, “If you would attend, we could have this or be able to do that.”

But that’s not really the answer.  Attending church services is not quite the same as being the church; and it is certainly not about coming with an expectation of being entertained.  Worship in its fullness is an expression coming from deep within, but that worshipful expression must also be so powerful and so all-consuming that it cannot help but to reach beyond the walls and the doors of the church and well beyond the single hour we devote to worship each week.

Reaching back to the 16th-century days of the “Father of the Reformation” who is credited with (or blamed for!) the “works-righteousness” dilemma, Martin Luther still maintained that “Anyone who is to find Christ must first find the Church”.  But he was surely speaking of much more that simply “going to church”.  His observation holds all professing believers – active or not - accountable to the true meaning of “church” as something worth being “found”.  So if seekers do “find the Church”, the question is will they also find Christ?  Because this would be the only church worth being “found”.

Seekers will much more likely find Christ through the Church’s faithfulness long before they will find Christ on their own because Christ is the foundation, heart, and spirit of the Church’s very existence.  Without Christ and The Covenant, the Church simply does not exist.  So within the Church, within that Covenant seekers must find a body of believers wholly devoted to something beyond themselves, something beyond their own comfort, something far beyond their own self-appointed “clubhouse rules”.  Within the Church itself, seekers must find – and be enabled to find – not only the Cross of Christ but our own crosses as well; for from these Crosses do we find Christ and the fullness of Divine Love.

So within that context of the Cross and all it represents, what is it we are supposed to do?  What are we equipped to do?  What are we prepared to do?  Compelling questions, all, because on an individual basis the reasons for attending worship would be as diverse as the individual; but if none of those reasons are about being connected to the worship community in a life-changing way, there is really no reason to merely attend “church”.  Because when “going to church” becomes no more important us than attending a civic club, town council, or Boy Scout meeting, we are off the holy grid and something has been lost; something which must be reclaimed.

This is why I think at least as important as “saving souls” is being about “preserving souls” rather than “retaining members” because every honest person knows how easily one can fall.  And we should also know how impossible it is to please everyone’s individual whims.  I think of the well-meaning churches that reach out, go door-to-door, etc., with the assumption they have whatever it is people outside of their own little churches lack. 

I don’t mean to sound so narrow but judging by some observations, what is largely considered a success by many of these groups is how many persons they can get to make a verbal commitment to Christ.  I have heard of “hundreds” who came for hot dogs and fun games and found Jesus in the mix, but the math does not match the photos of half-empty sanctuaries during worship.

A verbal commitment is not a bad start, of course, and the Holy Spirit can do wondrous things with genuinely open hearts; but how fruitful can we consider ourselves to be if our commitment to these new souls ends on a “check list”?  What sort of impact can we be said to have made for the Kingdom of Heaven if we convince ourselves we have “saved souls” but have not made new friends or devoted disciples equipped and prepared for a life beyond their own?  Remember we are not talking about preserving an “institution” by going on an annual recruiting drive; we are (or should be) talking about the strength and the purpose of the “ekklesia” (the whole assembly) to change lives.

We seem to be in an era of insurmountable challenges.  It actually seems culturally “trendy” to be an atheist.  Not long ago I tried to summarize a coherent list derived from all the self-designated “experts” of how the Church overall has failed so many.  It is not hard to find articles written by observers who are pretty sure of what turns themselves off to the Church, but who then pretend to be the voice of many.  After all, how many of us have said to ourselves, “Well, if it bothers me, it must surely bother others.  It is therefore no good.”  By the same token we are just as likely to say, “Well, if it’s good enough for me and I’m happy with the way things are, that’s all that matters.”

It wasn’t long before this list was so redundant and lacking any sense of hope that I began to wonder how any human institution can deal with such a list!  Summarizing these many lists to a manageable and comprehensible level was daunting, but a pattern soon began to emerge.  For me it came down to one word: credibility.  The “ekklesia” is not trustworthy.  Our collective faith as a community, as an assembly, is not believable.  Of course we can blame the Conference, the bishop, the liberals, or the conservatives; but locally, where the spiritual rubber meets the road, the problem is much deeper – because we’re not calling on people to trust an institution; we’re asking people to trust “us” to tell them the Truth that is Christ.

So where is our collective credibility lacking?   Is it that the preacher and the sermons are not funny enough, or the preacher is not saying the right things?  Is it that the choir and the music selections are not hip-hop enough?  Is it that the ushers are not friendly enough?  Is it that the members themselves out and about in the community are not pious enough? 

These components of the “ekklesia” may get a nod and a mention here and there, but there is more.  As often as it is said that a problem can rarely be traced to just one thing, we cannot say the personality and credibility of the “ekklesia” can be reduced to just one person.  If a thing is truly bad, it is bad from the surface to the core; and no one with any connection to the Body can be absolved of responsibility. 

Church can’t pay its bills?  Does this mean the budget is too big?  Or does it mean everyone connected to that budget is not giving enough?  Or is not giving at all?  The Church does not “do this” or cannot “have that”.  Is it because there aren’t enough people to “do this” or “have that”?  Or is it because the people we do have refuse to participate?

Essentially it boils down to whether or not an “ekklesia” is actively engaged in the life of Christ.  Jesus Himself states clearly, “If any want to become My followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24).  The level of faith required to be able to do this thing, to stop “looking out for #1” for fear that no one else will, is that faith upon which Jesus said His “ekklesia” would be built (Mt 16:18); a faith so abiding, so much a part of our being, and so stout that the very “gates of Hades will not prevail against it”

We need only to pick up a newspaper to see the “gates of Hades” seem to be coming loose at the hinges, but Jesus insists these “gates”, battered and threatening and imposing though they may sometimes seem, will not prevail against the collective faith of the “ekklesia”!  Do we really believe that, looking at the state of the world and society as it currently is?

So it cannot be about whether we can “do this” or “have that” as long as enough people show up and sign up; it is entirely about whether we will do all we are called and commissioned to do regardless of how many show up.  It is this fundamental Truth in which the declaration of faith is made: “We are the Church, we are the Body, we are the Cross, we are the Christ – we are the Word made flesh in the world today. 

But before seekers will believe it, we must first believe it ourselves.  Amen.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

A Thought for Wednesday 26 August 2015

“Hypocrites!  Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: ‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.  And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men’.”  Matthew 15:7-9 NKJV

Reading an article earlier this morning, the author was pointing out the mistakes many Christians make when reaching out (that is, if they bother reaching out at all), not least among these mistakes being an insistence that others must embrace our own beliefs in order to get right with The Lord.  And often our own beliefs (honest though they may be) have not been fully vetted or conditioned upon what is actually written in the whole of the Scripture, relying more heavily on whatever can fit on a bumper sticker – and even then not being quite biblical.

Of course Christians can stay up nights trying to list all the things others find wrong with us of the Church, and we can lose a lot of sleep worrying about things we cannot change.  Some people just don’t want to hear it.  Often, however, even Christians don’t want to hear the Truth, preferring instead something we have created for ourselves over time, maybe having heard it on TV by some well-to-do preacher that resonated with us.  It is so easy to get caught up in half-truths but when we do, a closer look through the lens of Scripture might reveal that what we are embracing is not quite what is written.  “Cleanliness is next to godliness” springs to mind.

The prophet nailed the people of Judah.  Actually The Lord did, and nailed them through His prophet.  In quoting the prophet, however, Jesus was not speaking strictly of a time or a people of the past.  Jesus is speaking a timeless truth: even the people of The Lord can get caught up in paying cheap lip service to The Lord while betraying biblical principles in our hearts.  Think of displaying deep love for The Lord on social media while ignoring the Church, the “ekklesia”, the assembly of The Lord’s people.  Or passing on rumors we do not have first-hand knowledge of, but doing so because we desire to do damage to so-and-so or just want to fit in with a particular clique (especially during election season!).  The harsh truth is we cannot claim allegiance to Christ when we willfully (and often gleefully) get so caught up in the intentional destruction of so-and-so, or ignoring the real needs of the community we are called to serve.

Words are easy, and talk is cheap.  Being a disciple, however, is hard; but nothing worth pursuing is ever easy.  As a priest of my childhood once said, “If you find following Christ to be easy, you’re doing it wrong.”  Social media has its place, but it cannot become a replacement for genuine relationships through which people can actually see the love of The Lord we profess not only with our lips but with our hands and feet as well.  In the end, that is what discipleship is about: sharing what we know to be true in life-transforming ways not only for ourselves but for others as well.  There can be nothing so deeply “personal” about a relationship we claim with Christ that does not express itself outwardly in meaningful ways beyond our mere words.

The Lord desires our hearts, our full devotion, and full attention – and for reasons we cannot begin to fathom until we actually start taking Him at His Word and listen to Him carefully – even when He seems harsh.  Think about it.  If He didn’t care about us, He would have stopped speaking to us long ago.


Tuesday, August 25, 2015

A Thought for Tuesday 25 August 2015

“[My people] were scattered because there was no shepherd; and they became food for all the beasts of the field when they were scattered.  My sheep wandered through all the mountains, and on every high hill.  Yes, My flock was scattered over the whole face of the earth, and no one was seeking or searching for them.”  Ezekiel 34:5-6 NKJV

“Support without accountability promotes moral weakness, and accountability without support is a form of cruelty.”  (Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church, ¶102, pg 53)

“Misplaced compassion” has been responsible for a great deal of the falling away from the Church of many who have been given tacit approval to lead ungodly lives, ostensibly (and ironically) in the name of “grace”.  Worse, those who have tried to hold others accountable have often been accused of being “judgmental” or even “legalistic”.  So because we are a people of compassion, and convincing ourselves we are doing the morally right thing to allow those we love (or are called to love) to spiritually hang themselves, we have allowed too many to walk away from the Church with hardly a word.  We’ve even offered a stamp of approval of sorts by offering our “understanding” when they list their reasons for walking away from the congregation. 

To be clear, I have not only used just about every known excuse for not being a part of the congregation, I probably developed a few of my own!  To be equally clear, however, it was not until someone cared enough to confront me that I began to understand what being part of a congregation is really about.  This particular gentleman was truly gentle with me, but he was firm in his conviction and his willingness to walk with me.  He was willing to risk a friendship for the sake of my soul.  It took a little time to sink in, of course.  My pride was not going down without a fight!  In the end, however, and probably with a little help from the Holy Spirit and certainly my wife, I was better able to understand what being a part of the Body of Christ is about.  There is much more to it than calling oneself a Christian or claiming to have been “saved”.

The Discipline of the United Methodist Church has it right.  When we help to solidify the less-than-moral and unholy choices our friends and family members often make, we have a hand in not only weakening the whole Church, we also “promote moral weakness” in the individuals we refuse to confront.  We much prefer to be “popular” than to be “faithful”.  In such vanity, however, we compromise our own integrity.

It is not easy to stand firm in the faith, and there can be no doubt doing so will cost us in some way.  “Speaking the Truth in love” is no easy task especially in the culture we have helped to create for ourselves.  Yet “concerning the times and the seasons, you have no need that I should write to you.  For you know perfectly that the Day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night.  For when they say, ‘Peace and Safety!’, sudden destruction comes upon them as labor pains upon a pregnant woman.  And they shall not escape.”  1 Thessalonians 5:1-3

Nor will we escape who allowed them to “become food for the beasts of the field when they were scattered”, we who failed to bother to “seek or search for them”.  Maybe we assured ourselves that “at least they’re saved” – missing entirely the whole point of what it means to be a part of something, uniquely a part of the Congregation of The Lord.  To be sure, there is only so much we can do because in the end adults have to make up their own minds.  Children, on the other hand (and particular those “infants in the faith”), not so much.  We owe them.  We will not hesitate to see to their secular education and we will move mountains to help some find funding for college, but we deliberately deny them a religious education.  Why is that?

Are we – or have we become – so ashamed of our faith, our religion, our God, that we would prefer to just remain silent while the “beasts of the field” get fat on those we neglect?  Or have we been so equally neglected that we are not equipped to help others?  Either way, we cannot deny that being justified before The Lord has nothing to do with being given a free pass to Heaven.  There is much more to our being than simply waiting on an “afterlife”.  Surely our God is big enough that He can and does and will equip us to enjoy the life we’ve been given?  Not to our destruction, of course, but to be a part of something that gives true meaning to our existence than a shiny new car or new shoes.

“Love” is a big word that is wholly about what we are willing to risk for the sake of another’s well-being – as Jesus did.  And we have to do better – NOT for the sake of a church’s budget, but for the sake of the soul.  In this life and in the life to come, there is so much to look forward to; but we have to claim it and teach others.  That is the strength of the Church; and while the risks are great, we are assured the Rewards are greater: “For Love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).


Sunday, August 23, 2015

Does someone have to be wrong before we can be right?

1 Kings 8:22-26
Hebrews 4:14-16
John 14:22-31

“Not all those who wander are lost.”  J.R.R. Tolkien

In the United Church of Canada there is a situation brewing between church authority and an ordained clergy accused of atheism.  Rev. Gretta Vosper is accused of rejecting “the god called God” (her words) and the authority of the Holy Scripture.  Of course the issue is how Rev. Vosper can possibly preach and teach Christian doctrine if she does not even trust the Scripture from which doctrine ultimately comes.  

It seems a no-brainer that she cannot continue in her capacity as a minister of the very Gospel she seems to deny – except that what seems to be the source of this clergy’s “atheism” is not strictly doubt or even disbelief, though there is a measure of that.  Rather she’s having trouble with the profound divide between the movement of the 1st-century Church we read of in Acts and what has become of that Church especially since the Council of Nicaea in the 4th-century – when the Church became an institution.

There can be no reasonable doubt the Holy Spirit was involved in the movement awakened in those early days after Pentecost.  We find an “ekklesia” that is not so much concerned with “creeds” (articulated doctrine) as they are with community, fellowship, the well-being of one’s neighbors, worship of The Lord, and study of the apostles’ teachings (Acts 2:42-47, 4:32-34). 

The “ekklesia” (assembly) became so intimately connected that we are told “There was not a needy person among them” (4:34), so filled were they with the Spirit of The Lord.  Think about it: how else can we possibly explain people willing to dump all they owned into a “community pot” administered by the apostles (whom the “ekklesia” barely knew) for the well-being of everyone, the entire “ekklesia” (assembly, congregation, community)??  Those who were once “needy” no longer lacked for the essentials of living.  No real wealth to speak of, but no one went hungry.

Rev. Vosper seems to insist those days are long behind us, but it isn’t that she does not believe this reality cannot be recaptured.  Indeed to the congregation she currently serves, she insists it must be recaptured and embraced once again – for the sake and the well-being of the “ekklesia”.  But what seems to be under the skin of those who want her removed from the pulpit is her lack of orthodoxy – that is, “right beliefs”; orthodox creeds that define doctrine but do not necessarily inform the “ekklesia” or develop the character of a believer in the matter of orthopraxy – that is, “right practice”. 

In the contemporary Church there seems to be a profound disconnect between the two, between what we profess to believe and what we show to believe.  This divide is attested to by a substantial generation of millennials who have not exactly rejected faith and religion in general (though many have) but have rejected those who “profess” a belief that finds no practice in the “ekklesia”.  I submit that this shift in doctrinal thinking leading to the disconnect between “right belief” and “right practice” may be due in large measure to the 16th-century Reformation from which “works” came to be regarded as a doctrinal dirty word.

I shared recently about a church that was on the brink of self-destruction due to a particular “clique” that demanded a rigid orthodoxy and an equally rigid “litmus test” for clergy and laity to determine fitness for church membership - according to this “clique’s” own narrow standards.  It was even demanded of my pastor friend and mentor that he submit his sermon manuscripts prior to Sunday’s service for approval!  Lest there be any questions, my friend did not comply.  Whether his predecessors did submit is unknown, but what is known is that more than one clergy and many laity were utterly destroyed and driven away altogether by these self-appointed guardians.  Those driven away were not convicted of sin; they were convinced of hatred from the “ekklesia”.

I guess there was a time when I might have likely been a part of that group – except I would probably have been as easily dismissed as any other because, as you have surely come to know, I like to think outside the “orthodox box” even though I often keep one hand safely on that box.  As when we played “chase” when we were kids, that “orthodox box” is a safe haven, the “base” as we called it.  It is my default option whenever I approach the end of the pier and find myself running out of pier and running headlong into water that may be too deep!

So it isn’t that orthodoxy is not important, of course.  The controversy leading up to the Council of Nicaea had to be settled because there was a substantial camp of “Arians” (not to be confused with Aryan) who questioned the divinity of Jesus; that is, whether He is “eternally begotten of the Father”, as expressed in the Nicene Creed, or was a created being like the rest of us. 

Articulating a coherent doctrine is necessary, but the doctrine must go beyond a written belief as in a creed.  That is only a matter of having pen and paper.  What the Church must be concerned with is doctrine that finds life in flesh and blood and Spirit … and, yes, “works”.  “Right belief” cannot have real meaning for the “ekklesia” – nor for those outside of the Covenant which binds the “congregation” - if those “right beliefs” lack discernible and tangible “practice”.  “Let your light shine before others, so they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). 

We must not take the word of a Reformer over the Word of our Lord!

This is the very reason why vows taken when joining a United Methodist Church involves not only an affirmation of “right beliefs”, but also requires a vow of “right practice” of service to the Church in “prayers, presence, gifts, and service”.  These are vows freely taken; and as it is written in the Scripture: “If you make a vow to The Lord your God, do not be slow to fulfill it; for The Lord your God will certainly demand it of you and you will be guilty of sin” (Deuteronomy 23:21).

The Social Principles and General Rules of the United Methodist Church are informed largely by the intimate doctrinal connection between “beliefs” and “practice”: “Our struggles for human dignity and social reform have been a response to God’s demand for love, mercy, and justice in the light of the Kingdom.  We proclaim no personal gospel that fails to express itself in relevant social concerns; we proclaim no social gospel that does not include the personal transformation of sinners … The Book of Discipline and the General Rules convey the expectations of discipline (order) within [the “ekklesia”] … [but] Support without accountability [to discipleship] promotes moral weakness; [and] accountability without support is a form of cruelty.  A church that rushes to punishment is not open to God’s mercy, but a church lacking the courage to act decisively on personal and social issues loses its claim to moral authority.  The Church exercises its discipline (remember “order” rather than “punishment”) as [the “ekklesia”] through which God continues to ‘reconcile the world to Himself’” (2012 Book of Discipline, ¶102, pg 53).

In all of this, it is not strictly a matter of who may or may not be “wrong” in any particular belief.  Rather it is primarily about the “ekklesia” offering to an unbelieving world what is truly righteous.  Not everyone can claim a rigid belief in a particular doctrine that lacks a discernable moral code.  That is, a discernible Gospel that is as personal as it must be social.  And that fundamental Gospel must surely be not only that Messiah Jesus is “eternally begotten of the Father” but that He is also “the Word which became flesh and dwelt among us”. 

Our faith and our witness is not at all about being “right”, for we are human beings with human minds and limited human understanding about the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven.  This in no way means we need not search, but we are as capable of being wrong as being right – especially in a rush to judgment.  This in no way, however, can be used as an excuse for being anything less than “righteous” – that is, merciful and with a profound sense of fundamental justice due to all of Creation.  Our Lord did indeed – and does still through His Holy Church – redeem and justify and sanctify souls; but perhaps as much as anything else, our Lord also stands for the dignity and well-being of the human person – even those who do not yet trust in Him.

Our Lord Jesus said, “I do as the Father has commanded me, so the world may know I love the Father.  Rise, and let us be on our way” (John 14:31). 

And so I say to you, let us “rise and be on our way” to go about the business of The Lord – to be the “Light” we are all called to “be”; the “Light” we are all called to “do”.  Amen.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Answer to an unknown Question

How can Donald Trump – or any political candidate, for that matter – be the answer to an unknown or, at best, vague question?  Mr. Trump’s mantra is “Make America Great Again”, and it seems most of what he is focused on is immigration – specifically illegal immigration.  Yet there is a fundamental problem with his premise of a diminished greatness attributed strictly to immigration, given that the US is predominantly a nation of immigrants (Native Americans being the exception, of course).  I might suggest that even at the turn of the 20th century there were more than a few immigrants who circumvented the legal process.

I was born in the US as were my parents and likely my paternal grandparents (not really known, however).  On my mother’s side are her paternal grandparents who arrived in the US through New Orleans from Syria (so the story goes.  Imagine my disappointment when I finally found out it was not Sicily, never having even heard of Syria.).  On her mother’s side is some Native American blood, but with a tribe unknown it is difficult to make any claim of substance.

My objection to Mr. Trump’s premise is the notion that America is not great, that the shine on the American star has diminished in any way.  Immigrants are not themselves the problem, although a porous national border is a big national security problem.  Corrupt and/or power-hungry politicians have been a problem almost from the beginning of this republic, but service to this country by her citizens has never been a problem.  Men and women have eagerly given freely of themselves in defense of this nation – sometimes for America’s borders but at all times for America’s highest ideals.

Freedom (which is not absolute), justice (which is not always blind), and mercy (which is not always without some pre-conditions).  These are the ideals and principles upon which this nation is founded, and these are the principles by which true greatness is measured.  These are the concepts sought after by the millions who risk everything to come and try to make a home and a future for their children.  Given my muddled ancestry, I am extremely lucky I was born here! 

I am a citizen of the United States but, as with Divine Mercy, citizenship is not something I have earned nor is it something to which I am entitled except by birth.  I have earned the title “United States Marine” and have proudly worn the uniform of the United States, but this did not offer to me any entitlement for my service (peace time though it was).  I chose to wear the uniform out of a sense of duty and gratitude as have millions before me have done and millions have since and will continue to do – untold numbers among these immigrants who were and still are willing to pay a price to earn their citizenship.  With the exception of the famed Navajo Code Talkers of WWII and other Native Americans before and since, we are all immigrants.

No one will claim we do not have a law enforcement problem in this country as it pertains to immigration.  It is a tragedy that many have suffered and died at the hands of illegal immigrants who came to this country with evil intentions, and it is a travesty that our immigration agencies and border patrol officers are fighting a losing battle with no real support from Washington DC.  Yet the greatness of this country is not in question because these officers and citizens are so willing to serve and fight even an uphill battle.

There are many problems we face as a nation, but our greatness is measured by our willingness to fight and face these problems courageously, justly, honestly, and forthrightly; problems that will not go away as long as self-serving politicians are elected and re-elected based on the premise that they alone are the answer to an unarticulated question.  I think maybe we should first form a national question before we begin looking for answers.  For any political candidate to question the “greatness” of this nation, however, is to disqualify that person from the start.

Monday, August 17, 2015

A Thought for Monday 17 August 2015

“My soul faints for Your salvation, but I hope in Your Word.  My eyes fail from searching Your Word, saying, ‘When will You comfort me?’”  Psalm 119:81-82

The praise of the Law is strange for Christians who rely instead on St. Paul’s words: “We are not under the law but under grace” (Romans 6:14).  This is, I think, a simple understanding of “law” as nothing more than a list of rules, things we must not do.  When we understand “law” in its broadest terms, however, especially when we understand the Law as The Word of The Lord, we find treasure we never knew existed.  And when we embrace the whole Word – rather than a series of words carefully selected to suit our own purposes – we find the “comfort” the psalmist was searching for.

Our parents had rules we were expected to abide by; and although we often rebelled against those rules as we grew older and bolder, we also discovered not only consequences for violation of those rules but reasons for the very existence of these rules.  We learned from these rules many useful lessons that would inform us well into adulthood.  We discovered not restrictions but a parent’s love for us and a concern for our well-being.

That is the whole of the Word today just as it was then.  Jesus didn’t dismiss the Law; He taught from that Law (in Hebrew it is Torah).  In fact He personified that Law as “the Word which became flesh”.  It is this same Word from which salvation comes; fully trusting in the Word as a Father’s love for us and a concern for our well-being – both today and in the world to come.

We must not dismiss the Law nor should we excuse ourselves in the name of “grace”, for grace is found within the Torah itself when we see the imperfections of those written of in the Scripture still used to build a Nation (Israel).  Torah is not strictly a list of rules (and certainly not only Ten).  It is the very Way of Life as Jesus Himself is the Way.



Sunday, August 16, 2015

Throwing out the baby with the bath water

Leviticus 16:6-10
2 Corinthians 5:16-21
John 6:56-69

“It's too easy to criticize someone who is out of favor and forced to shoulder the blame for everybody else's mistakes.”   Leo Tolstoy

“Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater is an expression and a concept used to suggest an avoidable error in which something good is eliminated when trying to get rid of something bad, or in other words, rejecting the essential along with what is not essential.”

“A slightly different explanation suggests that this flexible catchphrase has to do with discarding the essential while retaining the superfluous [unimportant] because of excessive zeal.  In other words, the idiom is applicable not only when throwing out the baby with the bathwater, but also when someone might throw out the baby and keep the bathwater.”

An old boss expressed it like this: “Stepping over a dollar to pick up a dime.”

Some things are important to “me” that are not so important to “you”, and vice versa.  It doesn’t make any particular list of priorities more or less important than any other by human standards, but what is important to us does reveal what is going on inside our heads and our hearts as much as Jesus teaches that “from the mouth comes the abundance of the heart” (Luke 6:45).

Yet when trying to get a sense of what is truly important by Kingdom standards when considering the Law regarding the Day of Atonement, Jesus’ teaching about His flesh and blood, and St. Paul’s perspective on unity within the Body of Christ, we may get a sense that what is important to us as individuals depends perhaps on what is at the top of our list on any given day.  One day it is about expelling sin from our lives, another day it is strictly about the depth of our affiliation with Jesus, and yet on another day it is about the depth of our relationships with one another.

Even though these three items may seem to be at odds with the theology of “grace” and a “personal relationship with Jesus” as the sole means of salvation, there is an underlying principle that ties these readings, these components together.   There is a principle that brings everything together and necessarily broadens our biblical understanding of what is truly important in the Kingdom and strengthens the bonds of the Church. 

It has to be Reconciliation – restoring that which is broken.  In the modern-day Jewish practice of Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), preparations begin a week prior to the actual Day itself.  In prayer and in fasting in preparation for presenting oneself to The Lord on Yom Kippur, it is necessary to consider all relationships.  To think about hard feelings and grudges held, the faithful are compelled to make every effort to right any wrongs they may have some part in or to simply clear up misunderstandings before they dare approach The Lord.

Jesus actually teaches this very Jewish principle according to Matthew’s Gospel (5:23-24) in which it is written: When you are offering your gift at the altar (‘you shall not appear before The Lord empty-handed, Dt 16:16), if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.”

The underlying message is that we cannot expect to be reconciled to The Lord unless and until we are first reconciled to one another – broken or damaged relationships restored - much in the same way Jesus teaches that “if you forgive others … your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive you” (Matthew 6:14-15).  This is unambiguous, and Jesus offers no exceptions – perhaps especially no exceptions for the “justified” (or “saved”).  For it is also written, “To whom much has been given, from him much will be required” (Luke 12:48).

A pastor friend once shared with me some horror stories of a church to which he had been appointed.  The congregation was grossly divided against itself and was in danger of imploding.  The church at one time had been hosting two worship services to accommodate the large crowds but had dwindled to almost nothing.  The reason for the decline was a particular “clique group” that believed itself to be holding all the cards having destroyed some people and pastors they alone had deemed unacceptable. 

The first thing my pastor friend chose to do was to hold only one worship service, a deliberate move to force what was left of the congregation to sit together and worship together.  One parishioner came to the pastor and made it clear that if this were to happen, he will go somewhere else because so-and-so was attending the other worship service.  Apparently so-and-so was this parishioner’s arch enemy, and he refused to be in the same building at the same time with so-and-so.  My pastor friend quoted the Scripture and told this parishioner: “That is your choice, of course, but it will also be your eternal condemnation if you refuse to be reconciled to so-and-so.  You’ll only take that hatred and resentment somewhere else, but you will never get rid of it.”

Sadly many more did leave the church (I don’t know if this particular parishioner or if so-and-so stayed).  Many others, however, for love of the Church and for the sake of mission chose to reconcile.  They chose to do the hard work of making things right and letting bygones be bygones.  They came to realize the ones being harmed by the many grudges were not only the grudge-holders themselves, but there was substantial “collateral damage” done in the community. 

But because enough of the faithful were resolved and committed to the necessary hard work before them, in two years worship attendance was getting to be standing-room-only, new guests were no longer afraid to attend (small town gossip made sure everyone knew what was going on, true or not), and the last I heard they were reconsidering an additional worship service.  All because of the faith and the commitment of only a few.  The pastor was only the facilitator.

There were many hard choices to be made and some very difficult matters to be faced, but at the heart of it all was Reconciliation – restoring that which was damaged or broken.  This pastor made sure everyone understood that their need to reconcile was not strictly so that the church would not disappear.  Immortal souls were on the line.  Playtime was over, individual demands were no longer the order of the day, haters were held to account, and the “private club” the church had become was no longer in business.

What is significant about such a recovery, however, was not strictly that folks had to get right with Jesus.  They did have to get right with The Lord, of course, but something else had to happen before that could be possible.  We like to express the concept of the “unconditional love” The Lord has for all Creation, and this “unconditional love” is expressed in Jesus’ willingness to go to the Cross for all of humanity.  But this notion of “unconditional love” has convinced too many of us that there are no spiritual consequences for our bitterness and hatred and resentment toward one another.  This is the greatest lie perpetuated by the Church – and probably helped along by the evil one himself because it certainly does not come from The Lord nor His Word.

New believers need to know the Truth of “unconditional love”, of course, but they will never come to even comprehend the depth of that Love if it is not evident in the Body of Christ which is the Church.  In the fullness of the Spirit of the Living God we are possessed by the depth of that Love in which we are constantly mindful that in spite of our unworthiness, our God and Holy Father nevertheless chose to redeem us, to make reconciliation with The Lord possible.

But I also want to throw this out for our consideration.  Is it possible we hold grudges, we harbor anger and resentment against one another because we do not know or comprehend the forgiveness of The Lord in our own lives?  Is it possible we receive the Eucharist of The Lord but do not fully understand what it means to “eat the flesh” and “drink the blood”?  Do we ultimately “walk away” as those disciples in Jesus’ day did because it is too difficult to understand that love and what forgiveness really means? 

We must understand that each time we choose anger and hatred and resentment and vindictiveness against one another, we ultimately “walk away” from Christ because the really hard work of discipleship is beyond our willingness to forgive.  And perhaps we lack such willingness because we do not feel as though we ourselves have been forgiven.  By The Lord or by our neighbors or our fellow disciples. 

Finding another congregation, another pastor, or withdrawing from the Church altogether – as has become the habit of many who don’t get their way - may make us feel better in the interim, but walking away only deals with a symptom; it does not deal directly with the illness – especially when the illness is within ourselves.  It is in “throwing out the baby with the bath water” by which we think we’re dealing with certain issues by throwing certain persons from our lives, but we’ve done nothing about the anger, the hurt feelings, the resentment that only builds, and the growing sense of vindictiveness that will not abate with time.  We have thrown out the baby, but have chosen to retain the toxic bathwater.

The reason for this is simple: we deliberately choose NOT to forgive.  And as my pastor friend and mentor has stated emphatically, we will carry that very heavy baggage all the way to hell – for Grace is as Grace does.  And if Grace will not do as it must, Grace cannot do as it should.

So let us deliberately and purposefully throw out the bathwater that has become so toxic with sin and guilt and mercilessness, but we must keep the baby – because the baby is us.  The Baby is the Church.  The Baby is the Body of Christ Himself who died for sin and was raised in Glory for us all – even the jerks.


Thursday, August 13, 2015

“No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the Last Day.  It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall be taught by God’.  Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me.”  John 6:44-45 NKJV

As difficult as yesterday’s passage about Jesus’ flesh and blood as “real food and drink” was for Jesus’ contemporaries, it is probably at least as difficult for us today to read in Jesus’ own words that in order to believe in Him, one must be summoned first by the Father.  For generations we’ve been taught that we must come to Jesus in order to have eternal life, that the decision is ours alone.  So why the twist?

For those of Jesus’ day, there were things to see with one’s own eyes.  Jesus healing, Jesus feeding, Jesus teaching with the kind of authority lacking of the religious teachers.  Not to say Jesus didn’t have His own detractors, of course, because He was often accused of doing such things in the name of Satan.  Yet there were some things physically seen that would have been impossible to explain and equally impossible to deny.

We do not have Jesus standing in front of us today.  We do not witness a basket of a few loaves of bread and some fish to feed multitudes.  And because we cannot see it with our eyes, it is much more difficult to believe.  For some it is impossible.  Funny, though, that we eagerly believe bad gossip about people we don’t like even though we do not actually see things with our own eyes, isn’t it?  Yet to believe in the Gospel of The Lord, there apparently must be an Invitation first – and not just from a preacher on Sunday.  The Invitation must come from Above.

First we must not confuse “belief” with “faith”.  We can “believe” almost anything (like gossip) even if we have no first-hand experience, but that belief does not become a part of who we are.  There is no real “trust” in what we choose to believe – and the gossip has nothing to do with The Lord or the Gospel.  That is destructive behavior we choose to become a part of, destructive behavior that will ultimately destroy us.

But when “faith” becomes a part of who we are, there begins a transformation.  We not only “believe” something to be real, we learn to fully “trust” in all that comes with it.  We are willing to take the Word seriously, believe it, and obey it without question whether we understand it or not.  We begin to take The Lord at His Word.  All this requires something more than even a credible eyewitness, for though we may hope it to be so, the reality is the Gospel is too incredible to believe without some help.  Note the difference between the disciples who followed, and abandoned, Jesus - and the apostles who stood courageously after Pentecost when the Holy Spirit filled them.  There were no doubts after that.  They obeyed to build up the “ekklesia”, the Church, and they obeyed to the point of their own deaths.

There must first be credible witnesses who attest to the Truth, not to a vague concept of a possibility.  Then must come full repentance, not just a willingness to “believe” just enough to get by.  There must be a full-on investment of hope.  When we show The Lord that this remarkable Gift of faith will not be wasted, it will be granted. 

Does this mean the antiquated doctrine of “predestination” has some validity?  A doctrine that says some are born “saved” and others are born “condemned”?  Surely this cannot be true since it is written in the Scripture that it is the desire of the Holy God that “all” will be saved on the Last Day. 

First things first.  It is the mantra and mission of the United Methodist Church and the expression of Messiah’s Great Commission to the Holy Church: “Go and make disciples”.  Share the Good News.  Some will want it, others will not.  A twist on a battle cry is for witnesses of the Gospel: “Love ‘em all; let God sort them out.”



Wednesday, August 12, 2015

A Thought for Wednesday 12 August 2015

“From that time [in which Jesus taught that His “flesh is food indeed” and His “blood is drink indeed”] many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.”  Matthew 6:66

Discipleship is hard.  Following Jesus demands more from us than we are willing to give.  We must also consider the context of this lesson.  Jesus is teaching Jews, whose Law prohibits the consumption of blood, that His “blood is drink indeed” (vs 55).  All geared up for the good stuff, but then this very weird Man says, “Eat Me if you want to live”.  What the … ???

Even after Jesus explains “ It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing.  The words I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.  But there are some of you who do not believe” (vss 63-64).  Yet rather than to draw closer and ask for clarity in their doubts, these many “disciples” turned and walked away.  Why?

We know why.  Whenever we hear something that just does not mesh with what we already believe or what we already think we know, we dismiss it as nonsense – especially when we hear something we don’t like from the pulpit that challenges us to take a closer look!

But no.  My guess is these disciples who “followed Him no more” had shut Him out even before He tried to explain further.  And we are inclined to do that ourselves.  We will listen to another opinion, consider another perspective – but only up to a certain point. 

The reality of discipleship – especially as we continue to grow spiritually – is that our transformation will not be complete in this lifetime.  We are never too old, too smart, too educated, too mature, too “saved” to learn something.  And when it comes to the pursuit of all that is Holy and Perfect in our constant transformation, we must never find a comfortable spot in our opinions and sit still, believing what we have is “good enough”.  And we must never – NEVER – say “No” to Jesus … because He is leading us Home!

We continue to wring our hands at the many who are walking away from the Church.  Some have lost faith in religion in general.  Some have just had it with organized religious power structures.  Many are done with the constant bickering and infighting, but some are also very tired of the “programs” that lack substance and do not feed the soul.  They are starving and are wandering in the wilderness in search of “food and drink” that will sustain them!

Yet there are also the many who walk away for the very reason these disciples chose to “walk with Him no more”.  His lessons just got hard.  Hard to take, hard to hear, hard to envision, and just plain hard to understand.  Surely our Lord knew this when He commissioned the Church to “go and teach and baptize”.  It is why the historic Methodist movement had its power and colossal growth in small prayer and study groups in which everyone was held to accountability and supported in their struggles when discipleship got hard.

We cannot try to make discipleship easier for those who cannot take it.  All we can do is help for as long as help is needed – or until help is rejected.  Only then may we “shake the dust off and move on”.  Until that time let us be mindful that we all need help from time to time.  And we may never fully understand all that is written in the Scripture, but that’s ok.  Because it seems to me that these disciples who walked away did not fail because they did not understand; they failed because they walked away altogether.  And as Peter said to Jesus when asked if he was prepared to walk away as well: “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life” (vs 68).



Tuesday, August 11, 2015

“Inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these [who were hungry, thirsty, an unwelcome stranger, naked, sick, or in prison], you did not do it for Me.”  Matthew 25:45 NKJV

Let’s be real.  A photo is floating about on social media of a bloodied and fallen Jesus with the caption, "Would you help Him up?".  It is being shared by well-meaning Christians who are trying to … well, frankly I’m not sure what they’re trying to do.  What is actually revealed, however, is not in the photo itself; it is in the reality of our daily living.  If we will ignore a stranger, curse an alien, gossip about an enemy, write off those who are hungry as ‘lazy’, etc., then the reality is we would very likely NOT help up a man carrying a heavy wood cross while surrounded by armed soldiers.  We would like to believe we would if we knew for a fact it was indeed Jesus, but here again reality will not let us off the hook; those who watched Jesus endure this unspeakable pain knew who He was.  They knew what He had done for so many, but there was no way they were going to stand up to a hostile crowd which was already stirred into a frenzy nor would they face down armed guards.  I think if there had been such a brave soul, Matthew or Mark or Luke or John would have mentioned that late brother or sister.

I think when we allow ourselves to be drawn into fantasy religion based on less-than-biblical (or at least less-than-honest) bumper-sticker theology, we lead ourselves to believe almost anything we wish to believe; that we would be true to Jesus if He fell down right in front of us, but we will not go out of our way to worship Jesus’ Father on Sunday in air-conditioned comfort if there is a ball tournament or visiting family or friends, or a football game or hunting/fishing season, etc.  So clearly we will not be “following” Him; He’d pretty much have to fall down right in front of us on the beach or on the 50-yard-line or in front of the tree stand, etc.

We all have the very best of intentions, but the truth is our daily living and weekly worship habits reveal exactly what we will actually do if/when pressed.  We may even have an intense desire to prove to The Lord that we would do the right thing if challenged, but there again the Truth confronts us – because we don’t have to do anything so heroic as to face down a hostile crowd or an armed contingent of soldiers with our very own death wish.  We need only to feed a stranger, help an alien, visit the home-bound, etc., because our Lord is clear: If you want to find Me, you have to know where to look.  And most assuredly I say to you that I will not be with you on the bow of your fishing boat or sitting on the 9th-hole tee box or even on your front porch sipping coffee with you - not as long as there are hungry, thirsty, lonely, isolated, incarcerated souls who are being ignored by My so-called “church”.  Jesus might even go so far as to say, If you will not even look after those who cannot look after themselves and if you cannot be bothered to worship the One who sent Me, or if you love mother or father or husband or wife or son or daughter more than Me (Matthew 10:37), it will be impossible to show that I am “in your heart”.

Let’s be real.


Monday, August 10, 2015

A Thought for Monday 10 August 2015

“Sing praise to The Lord, you saints of His, and give thanks at the remembrance of His holy name; for His anger is but for a moment, yet His favor is for life.  Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.”  Psalm 30:4-5

It is too easy to get caught up in the disappointments life brings.  Because we live in a fallen world and are by nature a fallen people, we need help in remembering we have so much going for us, so much to be thankful for even if we do not always see it.  And when we can fully realize the blessings we enjoy, however great or small, and can remember these blessings come to us from The Lord rather than by our own hands, we can then perhaps remember how deeply we are loved.

There is a catch, however.  We have to stop being so busy that we do not or will not take the time to notice the little things that bring the greatest blessings.  Yet we cannot become so un-busy that we have too much time to dwell on the negative.  This is when the little things that don’t amount to a hill of beans can soon seem to be insurmountable problems.  To dwell on a harsh word spoken, to spend too much time worrying about spiteful people who are not going to be kind to you no matter what you do, or to worry too much about money you never had and will likely never have is all time wasted on things and persons who do not deserve your attention anyway.  Frankly I think this is the wisdom behind the biblical prohibitions against “coveting”; we spend so much time pining for what we do not have that we are not free to appreciate what we do have.

It is often said that a good night’s sleep will always change perspective.  That is, once we “restart” our minds with much-needed rest, we realize what we were fretting about wasn’t worth the time or that it wasn’t as bad as we initially thought.  Even in the middle of the day, however, when we cannot always shut down and sleep, we can pray (and if praying has become such a burden to us that we will not make time for it, we have bigger problems!).  One way or the other, we must find a way to “close the door” (Matthew 6:6) to situations that bear down on us and persons who seem determined to do us harm. 

We don’t have to fight back against these situations and persons who get us down even though our fallen nature inclines us to such action, but that only takes us down to another level.  But when we look upward in that moment of solitude and peace, we can feel and appreciate what is being given to us.  We can find that peace of mind which can come only from The Lord.  And we are assured we will be renewed and comforted and reminded of what is important.

Get rid of the negatives in your life, and shut out the people who have proven themselves to be enemies to you and to the Church (if they mistreat you, they will mistreat others; you can count on that.  They are NOT friends of The Lord.).  This is what we have the power to do, and it is what we must do.  Then we can “have eyes to see”.  Then we can “have ears to hear”.  Then we can – and will – “give thanks at the remembrance of The Holy Name”.



Sunday, August 09, 2015

The Prerogative of Faith: doing right in the face of wrong

Isaiah 66:1-6
Titus 1:10-16
Matthew 5:33-48

"I tell you that you have less to suffer in following the cross than in serving the world and its pleasures."  St. John Vianney, 1786-1859

A “prerogative” is to be understood as more than only a “right” to which one is entitled; it should also be understood in terms of “duty”.  In the ministry of the Church and realm of the Kingdom of Heaven, however, we must not understand “duty” in terms of the dreaded and cursed “works” many have declared as “unnecessary” or a bounden “obligation” to be done whether we like it or not. 

Rather the “prerogative of faith” is best understood, especially within the context of the Sermon on the Mount, as the “opportunity” it truly is and not the burden we have deemed it to be or have allowed it to become.  The only reason we may even consider it to be a choice speaks to the complacent nature of our being and ultimately denies the power of faith itself, especially if we consider faith to be strictly self-serving.  It isn’t.

It is our “holy prerogative” to bless those who curse us as much as it is our “secular prerogative” to curse those who curse us; our “prerogative” to defend ourselves as we see fit even in deliberate defiance of what is written in the Scripture for us to know.  Our Lord Jesus seems to be clear in which option His followers must choose, but somehow His message has been lost on the greater Church which is struggling for survival as we claim not to know what the real problem is. 

And while it may be easy to say we are in the “end times” when so many will choose to walk away and “worship the beast” (since it is prophesized, it cannot be avoided), it becomes much more difficult when we come to terms with the reality that we are in no way and at no time “authorized” by the Lord of the Church to throw up our hands and give up! 

Think of it; what would be the difference between the ones who walk away and the ones who just give up by taking their faith into hiding?

St. John Vianney (whose quote I share at the top of the page) came of age at the turn of the 19th century during the time of the French Revolution, a time in which the Church had been outlawed.  Priests were imprisoned or killed, and the faithful went into hiding.  During this period St. John the boy saw the priests who were still active even under such threats as heroes, larger than life; men to be admired and looked up to because they persevered in the face of imprisonment and/or death.  They persevered to bring the Sacraments and the Gospel to the faithful in spite of the dangers.  It was this period that formed St. John’s determination and calling to the priesthood.

The theologian G.K. Chesterton once wrote, “Each generation is converted by the saint who contradicts [that generation] the most”.  This quote is attributed to the spirit and ministry and calling of St. John Vianney who persevered in the face of overwhelming odds during a time in which it seemed much easier to give in to the demands of the state than to put one’s life at risk just to “have church”.  He converted whole communities and restored generations to faith by his perseverance, his insistence upon his service to the Living Word first.  Untold numbers of souls were won or regained by one man’s faith.

Catholic or not, St. John’s example to us is that he chose holiness of heart and life over secular safety and comfort.  And we must understand that choosing holiness of heart and life does not mean we can take our faith and go into hiding.  This is not at all what the saints have shown the historic Church.

Of course we Methodists do not pray to the saints in asking for their intercessory prayers, believing as it is written that there is “one Mediator” (1 Timothy 2:5).  Yet we have no problem asking others to pray in our behalf (often instead of us) for whatever ails us or frightens us.  However, this isn’t about Catholic doctrine regarding the saints. 

It is entirely about the “great cloud of witnesses” written of in Hebrews which clearly includes not only the heroes of the Bible – but must also necessarily include those throughout the history of the Church who by their extreme examples of faithfulness showed us what is possible when we fully trust The Lord and not our own instincts or the cultural “signs”.  We see by their examples what is possible when we fully trust The Word of The Lord rather than our own ideas.

Those who were served by St. John were, of course, cradle Catholics who knew that an earnest confession and an expressed will to repent would open the floodgates of the Gospel back into their lives.  They did not come to be hit over the head with the Law, although there was certainly penance to be done.  They came to be fed by the Gospel!  In Catholic doctrine, that is the whole point and purpose of the Sacrament of Reconciliation – the Good News of mercy! – and to be held to account for one’s sins.

Jesus’ lessons in the Sermon on the Mount are quotable and memorable – and rightly so!  For daily living, however, these lessons just don’t seem so practical.  They don’t work for us, they are unrealistic, and they don’t take into account what we face today.  We should be able to see, though, that for all those we accuse of dismissing the Written Word as “ancient” to suit their own social purposes, political agendas, and personal lifestyle choices, we are as guilty of dismissing what is clearly written for us as much as it is written – not for those who don’t believe, but for those who claim to believe.  Especially for those who claim to be “saved”.

It is not about the threat of Hades or any other spiritual penalty, however, that should drive us back to the Word.  It is, rather, the promise of the Life which is before us in faith.  It is the promise of spiritual peace even in the face of social and cultural and even political turmoil.  It is peace of mind and heart and spirit on The Lord’s terms rather than our own.  The “prerogative of faith” is entirely about how deeply we actually TRUST The Lord to the point of obedience to The Word.

Still there is a catch.  Having the “prerogative of faith” which comes with the calling of every baptized Christian means we cannot shut ourselves off from the community of faith or participate only when the “fun” stuff comes around.  Having the “prerogative of faith” means we are not only fully engaged and fully invested in the whole life of the Church – worship AND Bible study AND fellowship – we are also searching for our place in the whole ministry of the Church.

We are in search of “perfection”, as our Lord Jesus so commands us: “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).  What does this mean to us, to pursue perfection?  The answer may be found in John Wesley’s sermon entitled, “The One Thing Needful”, based on Luke 10:42.  Recall the story of Martha and Mary playing host to Jesus.  Martha was taking care of all the chores while Mary just “sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what He was saying” (Luke 10:39).

The compelling verse (42) is the one in which Jesus states, “There is need of only one thing”.  Wesley believed that “one thing needful” for us is the recovery and restoration of the Image of God in which we are all created.  This is, in our mortal lifetime, the “one thing needful” we are to pursue, and it is the “prerogative of faith” by and through which we pursue it.

We must not continue to make the mistake that is the habit of so many of what Wesley called “almost Christians” who have fallen into the rut of complacency, those “almost Christians” who have the “form of religion but lack the [transformative] power”.  For these “almost Christians”, faith is nothing more than a token we place into a bag and hold on to until the Day of The Lord and then expect to be able to cash it in.  We don’t do anything with it in our lifetime, believing there is simply a space “held” for us in trust. 

Yet throughout our lives we deny the better part of all we are called to be because we are too busy, we don’t want to, we’re mad at the preacher or a neighbor, or have convinced ourselves (or have been allowed to become convinced) that doing for The Lord and His Church is not necessary or “not my thang”.

Ultimately the “prerogative of faith” is the call to “holiness of heart and of life”, and it means much more to Christ, to His Church, and to us than simply “being good” or going through the motions of “church” without fully engaging and investing in the life and mission and ministry of the Church.  It is entirely about “sanctification”, the pursuit of holiness, the restoration of that Holy Image of perfection from which we have fallen so far. 

Our Lord Jesus came to us as an expression of God’s eternal love for us so that we could have the means by which to restore that Image.  Humanity cried for help in the bondage of secularism just as ancient Israel cried for help in Egypt’s bondage, and The Lord of Mercy answered in His Eternal Word who is Christ Jesus, the Lord of the Church and Savior of the whole world.  Now it is time for His Church to answer.  Amen.