Archive for June, 2013

Relationships Take Time

June 20, 2013

And you never know precisely where they’ll end up.  

That can be a frustrating thing if you’ve been conditioned by a church culture that pushes relationships as a means to an end – the end of sharing the Gospel.  For Christians, this is a real conundrum.  Obviously, in any good relationship you want to be able to share the things that are most important to you, and as Christians nothing is more important than the Gospel.  
But not every relationship is going to end in or incorporate the sharing of the Gospel.  That’s something that makes most Christians uneasy.  I mean, hugely relieved in many senses, since so many feel awkward and ill-equipped to share the Gospel at all.  But even those who have no desire to share the Gospel have been trained that they should.  The guilt that compounds is impressive.
This past Sunday I learned that my new barista at the coffee shop is a chef as well, working at one of the more elite restaurants in town.  He seems a little more at ease than the first few times I came in.  This is a good thing.  Is it enough?  Is it everything it should be?  Well, the mental games kick in pretty strongly.  Am I just justifying not sharing the Gospel by claiming that real relationships are an end in themselves?  Probably.  At least at some level.  
In related news, the man who is invariable sitting outside when I show up on Sunday mornings drinking his coffee said more to me Sunday morning than he has in three years.  We exchanged hellos on my way in, which was pretty neat.  Then on the way out, he stated in the form of a question that today was Sunday.  I confirmed for him that it was and drove away.  
I don’t know where these relationships are going.  At one level I want to be happy that if nothing else, I’m hopefully conveying a positive impression of religious folk.  At another level, I want to be intentional in my prayers for these people and my relationship with them, trusting that the Holy Spirit is at work where I can’t see, doing things I can’t know.  All I need is to be ready if the moment arrives.  Until then, hopefully just sharing a few moments is laying good groundwork for whatever comes next.  

Being There

June 20, 2013

I had a curious conversation today.  I was called by a man asking me not to come to a burial.

In the ensuing conversation of 15 minutes or so, I found myself respectfully arguing with the man about why I ought to be there for the burial.  I was respectful in acknowledging that he was carrying out his duty as he understood it on behalf of the person being buried.  When he acknowledged being a Christian (though not one who goes to church), I found myself explaining to him the reasons why Christians gather together for burials and memorials.  It isn’t about the person who has died.  It is all about the person the deceased knew in their life, the person who promised them that their death wouldn’t be the end of them.
He wasn’t happy with my argument, but he was respectful in his disagreement, which I appreciated.  He ended by acknowledging that he couldn’t force me not to be there, but that he still didn’t think I should come.  I ended by thanking him for carrying out his duty, and apologized if it would be offensive to him if I showed up anyway.
Afterwards, I found myself wondering what the big deal was.  I suspect that the big deal has more to do with the people who would be there, rather than the body that will be laid to rest.  A witness, however foolish, that this person who died alone was not really alone.  A witness to hope.  However those people last saw the deceased, in whatever condition, whatever state of infirmity, this isn’t the way to remember that person, because that person isn’t like that any more.  
Still, it isn’t fun to have to argue with someone about it.  It isn’t fun to try and convince them that the faith that someone died in dictates some aspects of what happens around them after they are gone.  I hope that he understands.  And I pray that the deceased does as well.  I assume they do, actually.  The view is much more unobstructed, I trust, from where they are compared to where we are.

Fall’s Coming

June 18, 2013

For those of you with kids approaching college age.  Or with kids already in college.  

Yes, it’s expensive.

Mano a Bono

June 18, 2013

Depending on your age, you or your kids or your grandkids might be familiar with the iconic Bono, lead singer for the rock band U2.  While U2 has arguably faded a great deal over the last 30 plus years (I argue that their downhill slide started with Achtung Baby, but others argue that this was one of their best efforts, so what do I know?), Bono remains outspoken on a variety of topics, wielding his honorary or actual influence and fame to bring awareness to issues (and sunglasses) that he feels are crucial.  

Regardless.  I’ve known for years that Bono is a Christian.  What that means in this day and age is a fairly broad question.  However this article paints a picture of a man who has done his homework, and has a keen apprehension of the singular nature of the Gospel and what it means to him personally and to the world he often appears trying to save himself.   I’m grateful to my friend Gary, who caused me to revisit this article that I had started to read a few days earlier but gave up on due to the vacuousness of the first few paragraphs.  I’m glad Gary encouraged me to read the rest of it!
I love how he drives home this point towards the end:  it is popular today to say that Jesus was a nice guy and had good teaching but he wasn’t the Son of God.  However the Biblical Jesus doesn’t allow us this optional interpretation.  Either what He said is an integrous whole, that works together and is cohesive throughout, or it isn’t.  You can’t pick a piece that you like while ignoring what and who he claimed to be.  Doing so leads you to one of two conclusions – either he was a complete whack-o with delusions of grandeur, or he was one of the most consistently, publicly evil people in all of history – willfully misleading others into a web of deception he actively wove for an inscrutable end which he was happy to die to perpetuate.  
Please note – neither of these two options explain how it was he could heal people, feed people, drive out demons, raise the dead, heal the maimed, restore sight to the blind, or do any of the other amazing things he was credited for not only in the Gospels but in extra-Biblical materials of his detractors.  Nor do either of these two explanations account for the resurrection and empty tomb.  In other words, they aren’t very good interpretations because they don’t take everything into account.  But they take more into account than an attempt to paint Jesus as a harmless and misunderstood teacher.  

Reading Ramblings – June 23, 2013

June 16, 2013

Reading
Ramblings

Date: June 23, 2013,
Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts:
Isaiah 65:1-9; Psalm 3; Galatians 3:23-4:7; Luke 8:26-39

Contextual
Notes:
Ordinary Time consists of those Sundays in
the Church year that are not festival Sundays (Christmas, Easter) or
part of special seasons (Advent, Lent). Ordinary time began in the
season of Epiphany this year, lasting three Sundays prior to
Transfiguration Sunday and then the beginning of Lent. Now we begin
Ordinary Time again during the season of Pentecost. Ordinary Time
readings focus on Christ in the life of the Church. The readings are
no longer necessarily as tightly bound together as they were in
Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter. The Gospel and the Old
Testament are linked together, but the Epistle reading is now used to
read through contiguous blocks of Scripture.

Isaiah 65:1-9:
Following a chapter where God’s people implore him to come and make
his presence known, the Lord responds in Chapter 65 to paint a less
than glorious picture of his people’s prayers to him. Rather than a
people constantly seeking their God, God defines his people as
uninterested in him. They do not ask for him, they do not seek him,
they don’t call themselves his people (v. 1) – they are rebellious
and contentious, abandoning their God to pursue false gods and impure
behaviors and practices (vs.2-3). They flaunt his laws while
demanding that they be recognized as holy (vs.4-5a). This behavior
has not gone unnoticed, and the Lord promises judgment (vs.5b-7).

Yet at the same time, the Lord promises
mercy. His wrath will not be all-consuming. He will spare some of
his people from the judgment they deserve (vs.8-9). He does this
ultimately for his purposes and his glory.

Psalm 3: A prayer for
deliverance and also an expression of faithfulness. Verses 1-2 set
out the basic situation – the speaker is surrounded by enemies so
confident of their victory that they mock his prayers to God,
claiming God will not deliver him. Verses 3-4 counter this
assertion. They assert that the Lord is indeed a shield about the
speaker, protecting them and allowing them to stand against the
onslaught. The speaker asserts that the Lord has heard and answered,
even though the response has not yet been manifest in the speaker’s
situation. Verses 5-6 counter the challenge of the enemies. So
confident is the speaker in the Lord’s response that he is able to
rest. He is safe from attack and also filled with a peace that
enables him to sleep. The speaker has no fear of their enemies.
Verses 7-8 are a final rallying cry. The speaker has wakened, and
awaits the evidence of the Lord’s answer to his prayers. The enemies
will be defeated, and the mouths that spoke so disparagingly before
we now be smashed because the Lord blesses his people and is their
sure salvation.

The psalms are corporate prayers of
worship and petition as well as individual prayers. It is helpful to
view them not as something else that somebody else has prayed about
some other situation, but rather to try and see how the words apply
to our current situation, or perhaps a situation in our past. It
moves us from celebrating what God has done for someone else, to
celebrating what God has done and continues to do for us, which
I think brings the psalm more alive.

Galatians 3:23-4:7:
Paul has mounted a vigorous argument against the Judaizers –
Jewish Christians who insisted that Gentile Christians must also
convert to Judaism and observe all of the Jewish laws. He has argued
that the law is not the means of salvation, because God’s promises
came to Abraham before the revelation of the Law at Mt. Sinai
hundreds of years later. The law then is not the condition under
which the promises are received, but must perform a different
function.

Paul
argues in this section by example that the law does not provide the
privileges of forgiveness and salvation, but merely acts as a
safeguard until those promises and privileges can be received in the
work and person of Jesus.

The analogy that Paul uses is that of a guardian, which is a poor
English translation for a very specific figure in Greek life. A
wealthy family would entrust their child(ren) to a guardian. This
guardian looked after the well-being of the children. They escorted
them to school and performed other functions that might include
teaching. Their role was not to provide the child(ren) with the
blessings of the family, but to protect them and make sure they did
what they were supposed to, so that they would live to inherit the
privileges of their family.

Likewise, the Law functioned until the coming of Christ as a
safeguard against excessive and dangerous sin. The Law teaches us
how to behave, corrects us when we stray, and when necessary points
out our wrong-doing. It cannot save us, because that is not the
function of the law. Salvation comes only through faith in the
freely-given promises of God – promises that find their fulfillment
in Jesus, and that are granted to us not through our obedience to the
law but in our faith and trust that Jesus is the means of receiving
the blessings of God.

Luke 8:26-39:
Is anyone beyond the power of the Word of God? The demoniac would
seem a likely candidate. If anyone could be said to reject the
appeal of God described in Isaiah 65:1-5, it would be him –
literally as well as figuratively. Yet when he is brought into the
presence of the Word of God made flesh, he is transformed. The
demons are banished. Sanity is restored. Normality returns. The
man acts and dresses appropriately, and most importantly the man sits
at the feet of Jesus in the posture of a disciple, and is ready to
follow Jesus anywhere. The man who has seemed the least likely
recipient of the power of God becomes the model.

The surrounding people, who likely considers themselves followers of
God (although the Jews in Jerusalem and Judea would likely disagree),
turn out to be the ones with the bigger problem. When faced with the
power of God manifest in the demoniac, they do not become devoted
disciples, waiting to receive the Word from the Word made flesh.
They do not seek to become followers. Instead, they ask Jesus to
leave. Fear is a powerful motivator. Fear of change. Fear of loss.
Fear of uncertainty. Even unpleasant uncertainty can be preferred
to positive change. We are not privy to the exact reasons, but there
seems to have been agreement. Individual motivations may have varied
and are irrelevant – the result is the same, a refusal to accept
the Word of God and his kingdom.

Is it any wonder the healed man wanted to follow Jesus? Instead, he
is given the harder task of sharing what God has done in his life
with the people who rejected the source of that power. Not an easy
task! In doing so, the Son of God leaves a testimony to his
presence, and perhaps through that one man, those Gerasenes might be
brought to faith in the Messiah, much as the Messiah as one man is
the source of hope for all humanity.  

I Told You So?

June 14, 2013

Oh, lots of people have told us.  But they’re all silly alarmists who blow everything out of proportion, right?  All that’s wanted, we’re told, is to allow homosexual people to marry.  No big deal.  No changes to marriage as an institution.

But that’s hardly the case.  I can’t imagine an article like this getting published in a relatively major  media outlet twenty years ago.  
Alarmists were written off as using a slippery slope fallacy in arguing that once you remove the bedrock principle of marriage – a unique lifelong institution comprising one man and one woman that is the best arrangement to potentially rear children – any type of marriage arrangement could be argued for on very similar grounds.  

The Urge to Purge

June 10, 2013

The baristas at my Sunday morning tea & bagel stop early on Sunday mornings change with a certain level of frequency.  There were several hippie-chick types, followed by a local City College student, followed by a City College student-slash-modeling wannabe.  The new guy is somewhat reserved, and more than a bit obviously put off by my Sunday morning attire.

When I walked in he paused for a moment, trying to remember my order.  He remembered I ordered tea but couldn’t remember what kind.  And this morning he asked where I pastored as we were waiting for my bagel to toast.  I gave him my card and briefly described where I worked.  There was a connection.  He had attended the large Lutheran college about 50 miles south of us at some point in time.  He studied accounting there.  
He shared that he had been brought up Greek Orthodox, and went to this college expecting a fairly conservative environment.  He had the usual accounting profs talking about how they worked for the big name firms and therefore they should be listened to.  He talked about the required world religions or religious studies class he had taken, and how he had been pleasantly surprised to hear the prof advocating for homosexual rights.
My barista had to Google his prof to discover that he had been a pioneer in pushing for his particular strain of Lutheranism to not merely accept but willingly ordain homosexual pastors.  His prof had never mentioned his extra-curricular activities in class.  Had this student not Googled him, he would have never known.
I listened.  I do a lot of listening, and it’s something I far prefer to speaking.  But I felt the urge to speak rising up within me.  The urge to distinguish, to separate, to distance.  I’m not the same Lutheran as those folks down there.  I don’t agree with your prof’s extra-curricular efforts.  I wanted to avoid being lumped into the same bin as those other people, despite the fact that my barista was clearly not interested in such distinctions, and wouldn’t necessarily know what to do with them once they were provided.  
But the impetus was strong.  I had to consciously check myself.  To just listen.  Not distinguish.  Not separate.  Not now.  Not yet.  There might come a time for that discussion, but this wasn’t it.  Right now, I needed to hear him talk about a positive experience he had with Lutherans.  Perhaps it will lead to future conversations.  He is loosening up.  As I try to tip him well and not say anything too stupid.  As I ask questions and listen to what he wants to share.  Bridges are built slowly, one plank of wood or steel at a time.  Talking about how the wood or steel I use is superior to the wood or steel he might have come across elsewhere is irrelevant right now.  In time, the wood and steel will speak for themselves of their worth.  Hopefully when he and I are standing together on one side of the gulf that probably now separates us.
Dear Lord, help me to bite my tongue.  Suppress my urge to distinguish and separate until those things have meaning and purpose in you.  

Reading Ramblings – June 16, 2013

June 9, 2013

Reading
Ramblings

Date: June 16, 2013,
Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts:
2 Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-14; Psalm 32:1-7; Galatians 2:15-21, 3:1-14;
Luke 7:36-8:3

Contextual
Notes:
Ordinary Time consists of those Sundays in
the Church year that are not festival Sundays (Christmas, Easter) or
part of special seasons (Advent, Lent). Ordinary time began in the
season of Epiphany this year, lasting three Sundays prior to
Transfiguration Sunday and then the beginning of Lent. Now we begin
Ordinary Time again during the season of Pentecost. Ordinary Time
readings focus on Christ in the life of the Church. The readings are
no longer necessarily as tightly bound together as they were in
Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter. The Gospel and the Old
Testament are linked together, but the Epistle reading is now used to
read through contiguous blocks of Scripture.

2Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-14:
Rather than being out with the troops, David has stayed behind in
Jerusalem when he spies the beautiful wife of one of his generals.
Lust leads to adultery which leads to pregnancy which leads to failed
attempts to cover up the tryst which ultimately leads to murder.
David’s trusted adviser and prophet of God, Nathan, must confront the
King. This can be touchy business, even in the best of
relationships. Nathan proceeds by allowing David to condemn himself
before announcing God’s condemnation as well.

However David repents. The Lord
accepts his repentance and offers forgiveness. While we are prone to
remember David for his failures, we need to be quick to remember his
repentant heart and God’s forgiveness. As we consider the work of
God the Holy Spirit in the Church, how often we are prone to wish to
speak the law to someone and convict them of their guilt, yet
withhold the words of forgiveness that ought to follow contrition!
The Church has the blessed responsibility of calling to repentance
and speaking in the stead and by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ
the life-giving words of forgiveness! There is no sin that the death
and resurrection of Jesus Christ cannot provide forgiveness for, and
we need to be quick to speak that forgiveness when appropriate!

Psalm 32:1-7: What a
beautiful extolling of the relief of forgiveness! Truly the one who
is forgiven is blessed, whereas the one who is not forgiven,
regardless of what else they may take pride in, cannot truly be said
to be blessed. Forgiveness is the greatest and pre-eminent of all
the gifts God the Father provides to his creation.

This psalm is attributed to David, and
in light of the reading from 2 Samuel we can well imagine David
penning this psalm to describe his guilt regarding his affair with
Bathsheba, and the relief that came from admitting his guilt and
pleading for forgiveness. David and the speaker are therefore able
to affirm the loving protection of God that is found in his
forgiveness. While we may still have to reckon with the effects of
our sinful choices, we can endure those repercussions in the light of
God’s forgiveness.

Galatians 2:15-21, 3:1-14:
Forgiveness is a powerful thing that the Christian receives through
faith in Jesus Christ and not based on our own attempts to merit it.
Paul distinguishes himself and his hearers from the Gentiles who do
not have the law and therefore can not know the judgment under which
they stand. As Jews, Paul and his hearers attempt to live by the
laws set down through Moses. Yet their ultimate faith and trust is
placed not in keeping the Mosaic covenant, but in the death and
resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Paul makes an important argument here at the end of Chapter 2. By
attempting to live worthily as Jews, Paul and his fellow Jews still
fall short of what is required and sin. Does this somehow impugn the
sacrifice of Christ? Does Christ stand in contradiction to the law,
or does he lift the believer out from under it? Paul argues that in
attempting to live as called by God, the Jew demonstrates the
rightness of the very law that condemns them and demonstrates their
efforts to be futile. But the Christian is removed from this cycle
of condemnation by faith in Jesus Christ. By faith in Jesus, the
believer has died with Jesus – the law has executed its full
punishment upon the believer in Jesus, and the believer no longer
stands condemned, since the law no longer applies to one who has
died. Death is the punishment of the law – once punishment has
been exacted, the law no longer applies and holds no threat.
Attempting to live by the law does not undo what Christ has done, or
else Christ need not have come and died for us.

In Chapter 3, Paul hammers home his point. The Galatians have been
misled by those who insist that the full law of Moses must be kept in
order to benefit from the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Paul does not
mince words – the descendants of Abraham, those who inherit the
promises of Abraham are those who accept in Jesus Christ the
fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham. It is not mere ethnicity
or culture or the Jewish law itself that means anything – but only
clinging to the promise fulfilled in Jesus.

Luke 7:36-8:3:
Forgiveness is again at the center of our attention today. While
the Pharisee (Simon) wants only to focus on the woman’s guilt, Jesus
focuses on the repentance that such guilt has created in her. While
the Pharisee will only condemn, Jesus will forgive.

Jesus highlights the difference between his attitude and his host’s,
drawing the host to condemn himself much as Nathan drew from David
his own condemnation. The particular aspect of this comparison
though is easy to miss. It isn’t that Simon has not been forgiven,
but rather that he treats his forgiveness so lightly, because he
assumes himself to be a basically good and righteous person.

Jesus has come to offer forgiveness to any who will repent and see
their need for it. Simon’s assumption of his own basically righteous
nature precludes him from seeing who Jesus is and valuing what he
offers. As such, he treats Jesus casually and rudely. In order to
stress his own authority and position, Simon does not treat Jesus as
an honored guest. Simon doesn’t anticipate needing anything from
Jesus, and therefore he can treat him flippantly.

The sinful woman (traditionally said to be a prostitute) on the other
hand knows that she is completely unworthy. Unworthy to be in
Simon’s house (tradition stipulated that when feasts were given, the
poor were allowed to come in and receive some food as well), she was
even more unworthy of what Jesus could provide her. Simon could only
tell her what she already knew about herself – that she was
unworthy and sinful. But Jesus had the authority and power to tell
her what she most desired to hear – that she was forgiven.

Once again, we see the power of forgiveness. The Church under the
authority of Jesus Christ is the only place that can speak that word
of forgiveness with authority and assurance. If we do not speak it,
it will not be heard!

UnFortunate

June 7, 2013

It is a sad story, to be sure.  Two lives ended by what appears to be a mutual decision.  Two people who for whatever reason chose death rather than life as their best possible option.

The bitter irony is that this particular couple were known for being media personalities focused on self-help and motivation.  
It would be easy to take cheap shots at the vapidness of much of the subculture of self-help and motivation.  But I have no doubt that plenty of Christians end their lives prematurely as well.  Nobody is fully immune to despair or hopelessness.  Christianity points us outside ourselves for a much surer source of peace and comfort and hope, and I believe that Jesus died and rose again to conquer all sin, all despair, and all hopelessness, even when these things lead people to suicide.  
Ultimately it is this message that I find most empowering – that I am not responsible for it all. I can’t carry it all – that isn’t what I was intended for. Perhaps that is a message that might have helped this couple.  I pray it is a message that will somehow reach and help those who looked to them for advice and coaching.  

For Those of You Keeping Score at Home…

June 6, 2013

What does the largest free press in the world do?

Not a lot, these days.  While I don’t care for some of the rhetoric in this article, it points out an obvious and important point – American media is by and large in love with our President and his policies, and seems to be reluctant to report extensively on anything that might reflect poorly on him or his policies.  
I don’t think the press is specifically enamored with President Obama – I believe the press would be equally smitten with any Democratic official.  And this highlights an important thing to beware of – if certain parties or candidates feel that they won’t be investigated by the press, or that the press won’t press hard on certain issues even if they are reported briefly, this creates a dangerous sense of empowerment.  
Citizens are responsible for monitoring the activities of our elected leaders.  The press is a convenient (but not entirely necessary or irreplaceable) means of doing this.  If the press has a bias or agenda, citizens need to be aware of this so they can take steps to ensure that what is being reported is accurate, and that what is important is being reported.  Assuming that media covers what is important, and that what isn’t covered isn’t important is a very dangerous assumption indeed which ultimately hurts everyone.