Archive for June, 2017

Mercy Killing?

June 30, 2017

The Western world grapples with the fear of suffering.  Not simply our own, actual suffering, but the suffering of others and our own hypothetical suffering.  The idea of having to suffer offends our sensibilities.  There is no purpose to it.  And so we demand that we have the option to opt-out of suffering and along with that we demand the right to opt other people out of their suffering so that we don’t have to suffer along with them.

We term this mercy.

Here is what mercy now can look like.  Parents of a child born with congenital health issues for which there is no cure or treatment are being told that the government has decided to end their child’s life – in the best interest of the child.  Despite the fact that the parents do not want their child to die.  Despite the fact that there is experimental treatment available out of the country that could change the conditions for which the child is being sentenced to death.  Not only this, but now that their appeals for out-of-country treatment have been denied, the parents are also being denied the right to have their own child die in their own home, rather than in a hospital.

I’m still trying to see where the mercy is involved in all of this.  Perhaps because I don’t suspect that mercy is really what is being demonstrated.  Efficiency.  Expediency.  A rigorous attention to detail, the rule of law.  Bureaucratic policy.  But not mercy.

This is happening in Great Britain.  The country, as one observer notes, that fought against the Nazi’s and their insistence that some lives (other people, more specifically) were not worth living and therefore the government could decide to end those lives.  This is where we end up without a moral compass or baseline, without anything that limits our ability or tendency to define and redefine even such beautiful words as mercy until they mean the very opposite of why we find them beautiful.

This redefinition is evil.  It is evil because it reduces humanity to a matter of expediency and personal preferences, carefully sanitized in legalese and policy-speak.  It is evil because it holds the dictates of a human being or institution as ultimate and final, without recognizing that such beings and institutions are inherently unable to provide a single, permanent baseline from which to operate.  So the decisions made today may be completely opposite the decisions that would have been made 50 years ago, or the decisions that might be made 50 years hence.

We (Christians) are being inculcated to sympathy with this evil.  I find the seeds of it even in myself, despite being older and less prone to direct means of subversion and brain-washing (like schools).  We are being wooed towards sympathy because of our own fears and hopes and wishes.

Yesterday I visited one of our long-time members who is homebound.  She has been homebound for the past seven years, by and large.  Over those years I have brought her Communion and led us in simple worship together.  She is an amazing woman.  Her mind is sharp, her will is formidable, she is articulate, cultured, and refined, and she has a zest for life that would be admirable in a person a quarter her age.

When I saw her two weeks ago she was having a good day.  We shared Communion and prayer.  I could see much of her through her condition.  When I went yesterday, however, it was a bad day, and I could see so very, very little of the woman she is.  She was fearful, her words slurred and at times indecipherable.  Her fear was palpable and audible, her weakness striking.  She didn’t know who I was, or who the woman caring for her was, or where she was.  She begged to go home while sitting in her own living room of 50 years.

I left asking God why He didn’t take her yet.  She has been ready to go for years.  Her faith is strong, but her mind and body have been subverted and twisted by time.  What point is there in having her linger, I wondered.  I even flirted with the thought that perhaps God was being unkind to her in this.  She deserves to die.  It would be a blessing to her.  It would be merciful.

Merciful to whom, I suddenly thought.  Perhaps it would be merciful to me, so that I didn’t need to keep going to see her.  Merciful to me so that I wasn’t made uncomfortable by her condition and deterioration, fearful that I might one day be in her place.  Merciful to me in that I wouldn’t have to accommodate myself to her limitations, and that I could leave feeling happy and care-free, to go about my daily routine and duties, rather than struggling with mortality and the damnable reality of sin and death that lurks within my own frame.

She is still herself.  She isn’t less herself, or less of a human being, than she was two years ago or twenty years ago or eighty years ago.  She is entitled to all the same love and care and concern.  Is it harder to be with her?  Yes.  Which is perhaps why it is all the more important to be with her.  To come to grips with the effects of sin in our lives.  To seek to love her consistently and care for her consistently, rather than simply deciding that at some arbitrary point or in some arbitrary state of mind or body, she is no longer herself, no longer deserving of the life that God himself has given and sustained her in.  Perhaps part of the blessing of suffering is that we learn to see past and through these things, both in ourselves and others.

She is not defined by her dementia.  She is not defined by her physical frailty.  She is not defined by her suffering, and neither she nor I have the right to redefine her as such and cease to see her for what she is.  Beautiful.  Alive by the grace and wisdom of God.  And therefore an opportunity to love and practice mercy with in the truest and best sense of that word, rather than the senseless way our culture wants to redefine it.  Perhaps as I continue to care for her in this way, it will better prepare me to care for others in similar conditions, and will further prepare me – inasmuch as may be possible – for me to endure that condition should it become my own one day.

Mercy, like hope, isn’t necessarily expedient.   But we are in a dangerous place without either.

 

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Contradictions – Paul & Burdens

June 29, 2017

The next in the list of alleged Biblical contradictions is the sixth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Galatian church.  Verses two and five are allegedly in contradiction with each other, as in v. 2 Paul admonishes to bear one another’s burdens, while in v.5 Paul insists that each one will have to bear their own burden.  Important to resolving this is tracking the flow of Paul’s thought and expression.

Towards this end, we need to remember that the chapter and verse designations in the Bible were added much later.  They are not part of the original documents or the earliest copies.  The Jews had their way of dividing chapters and verses for what Christians call the Old Testament, and while Christians by and large have maintained these there are some slight variations, particularly in the Psalms.  The first organizing divisions of the New Testament were evident by the fourth century (called kephalaia), though they don’t match the chapter divisions we have today.  Be careful if you’re Googling Kephalaia – the most prominent hits are related to a Gnostic, non-Christian text from the fourth century.  Modern chapter divisions come from a system derived by Archbishop Stephen Langton in the 13th century.  Verse divisions derive from the 15th century work of Robert Estienne.

All this is to say that to show that the verses in Galatians don’t, in fact, contradict one another, we need to start reading in Chapter 5.  Paul is writing on the larger theme of how Christians should treat one another.  We are not to trust our own feelings and ideas, but rather seek to conform ourselves to the Holy Spirit, something we would say happens when we are in God’s Word and allowing it to show us how to be, rather than determining what we want to do and say for ourselves.  In Galatians 5:16-24 Paul illustrates this basic distinction.  When we do what we want, rather than allowing God to guide us, our behaviors are destructive and dangerous to ourselves and others (vs.19-21).  When we are guided by God’s Word to us, our behavior is far different (vs.22-23).  This is the theme that Paul is continuing into what we now look at as Chapter 6.  The chapter divisions and headings are sometimes helpful, but at other times they lead us to treat the material in a given chapter as a discrete and self-contained unit of thought when it really isn’t.  Such is the case here.  Chapter 6 is a continuation of Paul’s larger theme about how Christians deal with themselves and one another started in Chapter 5.

In 5:24, Paul also warns against allowing our faith in and following of Jesus the Christ become a point of spiritual pride and comparison.  Nor are we to envy in an unhealthy way those who have greater insight, training, education, or experience in the Christian life or the Word of God, the most reliable expression of the Holy Spirit’s leading.  Such attitudes might lead us to gloat when a brother or sister falls into sin (6:1).  Rather, the opposite should happen!  Christian community exists to help sustain and uplift one another.  Sin and failure will happen, but such situations are always to be treated first and foremost as an opportunity to glorify God by the restoration of the fallen brother or sister.  We don’t look first for opportunities to exclude, but opportunities to come alongside one another to encourage and lift up.

At the same time, we have to watch out that we are not tempted into sin ourselves.  If your weakness is alcohol, you aren’t the best person to go to the bar to attempt to bring out a brother or sister who is struggling with alcoholism.  We all have our weaknesses, and knowing this, we should always be ready to stand with and alongside one another, bearing up one when she is weak, and ourselves being borne up when we are struggling in weakness.  This is a fulfillment of what Jesus the Christ intends for his followers.  While there is no specific statement of Jesus to this effect recorded in the Gospels, it likely flows from Jesus’ repeated admonitions to love one another.

Contrary to this desirable, beneficial, and commanded relationship of mutual support and encouragement is the ever-present temptation to spiritual pride.  I don’t need such support.  I am strong enough in my faith that I do not need others to support me.  Such an attitude might extend even further – If I am strong enough, others should be as well.  If they are not, they are lesser Christians, or perhaps not even Christians at all!  Such an attitude is dangerous, and Paul hints that it likely is never appropriate.  Far more likely is the situation where one person considers herself to be stronger than she really is.  In which case, she has convinced herself of something that isn’t true, and it will be only a matter of time until this becomes a source of stumbling for her.

Rather, we should measure and test ourselves, probing and uncovering our weaknesses and vulnerabilities where we might be tempted to sin.  Then we will have a better assessment of ourselves.  We can give thanks to God, for example, that we are not tempted to alcoholism, rather than gloating or lording over the brother or sister who does have that weakness.  The word boast used here can be either a positive or a negative sense of the word.

Ultimately, we each must bear our strengths and weaknesses.  We can be assisted, encouraged, prayed for, mentored, and nourished by brothers and sisters in the faith, but ultimately we are responsible for ourselves.  We bear the actual responsibility for our walk of faith.  Nobody else will be held responsible for our failure to do what we know to be right.

So Paul is not actually contradicting himself here if we are willing to take the time to examine his flow of thought.  In Christ we are bound together, all seeking to follow the same Lord to the best of our abilities, which will differ from person to person.  As such we walk together, bearing up one another and ourselves being borne up.  But ultimately we are responsible for our own walk.  We won’t be able to claim that we were sinful because nobody was there to help us, or didn’t help us enough.  Our sin is our own.  Even more reason to give and receive help!

 

 

 

 

Hope Isn’t Expedient

June 27, 2017

In my line of work I hear a lot of difficult stories.  People moving through hard experiences.  Illnesses.  Family difficulties.  Broken relationships.  Unexpected adversities.

I’ve realized over time that the people who tell me the storytellers break down into two basic categories – those who want hope, and those who want help.  While these two things often are found together, they aren’t necessarily always.  But often the distinction is driven by the person speaking – I am either someone who conveys real hope, or I am someone to help them with a particular situation.  I am part of a bigger story and picture filled with hope, or I am an expedient means to an end.

The people in my community are in the first category.  Maybe they’re members of my congregation.  Maybe they’re regulars at Sunday Happy Hour.  They are present in community aside from any particular need.  Needs arise, to be sure, and when possible the community gathers around to try and meet the need.  But when the need passes or is met they continue in the community, seeing that community and their place in it as part and parcel with having their needs met but also as a source of hope and strength and comfort.  They see their needs as part of a larger picture that can best (and I would argue only) be met through intentional, consistent Christian community.

Community teaches us that struggles come and go.  Joys arrive and depart.  There remains a steady underlying reality that contextualizes these things and makes them respectively easier to bear and more enjoyable.  Our troubles are less overwhelming in some degree because we are a part of other people’s lives and know that they have troubles as well.  Our joys are heightened as we are able to share them with people who know us and care for us.  One day we are helping someone in need, the next day we are the ones who are being lifted up in care and prayer.

Other people I meet randomly are only looking for a temporary fix.  They need help with their car insurance, or this month’s rent, or groceries, or a bus pass.  Many of these are to some degree workable.  I’m blessed to serve a community with some assets set aside to help and care for people in need, and it is a wonderful experience to be able to do so.  Whenever it is appropriate, I encourage these people to join us for worship.  I ask if they have a community of faith or another support network that they can draw strength and encouragement as well as tangible help from.

Overwhelmingly the answer is no.  Not only is it no, they don’t want this.  They won’t come to church.  Won’t go get help at a shelter.  What they see is a very limited and specific need and what they want help with is that particular need.  Perhaps I can and will help them or perhaps I can’t or won’t, but they aren’t interested in hearing anything that extends beyond that particular need to the larger picture.  Despite the fact that my community is willing and able to help them, they don’t see any value in the community itself, only what that community might provide them at a single point in time.

Recently our community provided a young family in need with $1500 in a matter of three days.  All from members who desired to be a blessing and help.  The family isn’t part of our church, and from my limited talk with the guy, not a part of any Christian community – though desirous of one.  In the three days between their request and me delivering the check he was in constant contact.  Sending pictures of his daughter, etc.  As soon as he received the check, he cancelled the appointment we had set up for the next day.  For the last month he’s talked about rescheduling but something always comes up.

We didn’t help this family so they would join our congregation (though of course I’m always hopeful!).  But we did help them out of love first poured out into our lives from the Son of God.  We did it in faithfulness to how God wants us to live, and out of love for this family as part of that witness of faith.  And, we did what many individuals and even other communities could or would not do.  It baffles me that this man wouldn’t be interested in finding out more about and getting closer to our community.

The objective reader may point out that we’ve simply been taken advantage of.  Scammed.  Used.  Conned.  And this is of course possible (though for some compelling reasons I don’t think so in this particular case).  I’ve certainly helped other folks that I was sure were feeding me a line of bull  But even if that were the case, wouldn’t a con artist be interested in learning more about a group of people so willing to give of themselves?  To be sure, I don’t want con artists in my community.  Not if they’re insistent on remaining con artists.  But I do want con artists in my community so that the Holy Spirit might actually change them.  The early Christians were noted for their love and care for one another in adversity.  Now people are hopeful or even expectant of such love, but they see it only in terms of a particular need at a particular time, not as something which might transform their lives through the power of God the Holy Spirit.  And for those who aren’t con artists, who are really in need, I want them in our community to see the power and love of Jesus at work in tangible ways.  I don’t think you can experience that and not be affected by it at some level.  St. Paul and St. James clearly think you can’t.

Perhaps that is, in part, what keeps some people from community and the hope of real change and improvement.  Perhaps change isn’t really what some people want.  They simply want expediency.  This particular need met.  When the next particular need arises, they’ll figure out how to handle that.  But this issue here and now, and nothing more.  Not hope.  Perhaps they are so beleaguered are entrenched in their ways of thinking and being that it isn’t possible to even imagine something more or better.  Which means I should probably be praying more for them, that they would recognize what their greatest and deepest need truly is, and who alone can provide them not simply with help, but with hope.

 

Problems with Slaves

June 26, 2017

It’s amazing how much difficulty people have with the idea of being slaves.

I don’t like slavery either – certainly not in the human sense of one person completely owning or controlling another person.  Even under the best possible circumstances it still strikes me as inherently unhealthy, though I would argue that some people who are technically free but wage-slaves or otherwise overwhelmed by powers and authorities in their lives are worse off than a slave with a good master would be.

But even in the theological sense, as Paul speaks of in Romans 6, the language makes me itchy.  Am I really a slave?  Am I really as bad off as that?  Am I truly destined to be owned and controlled either by sin and death and an enemy older than myself, Satan, or controlled by the grace and forgiveness and new life to be found in Jesus the Christ?  Multiple people in conversations after worship and otherwise expressed their distaste or outright disagreement with Paul’s terminology.  I sympathize, to a point.

But, I didn’t call myself into this world.  I didn’t create me.  Much of my life is the result of things and people beyond my control.  I don’t know when and how I will die.  I am far from free in any meaningful sense of the word.  Yet I cling to the illusion of power and control.  Even were I not a theist and were inclined towards natural selection and other explanations for my existence, I wouldn’t be any better off.  In such a system I am merely the slave and product of my genes, produced with the sole purpose of perpetuating my particular brand of DNA and genetic markers, manipulated by the illusion of emotions and perceptions of meaning and greater purpose all for that singular end.

Paul is clear.  Either we are a slave to Satan or we are a slave to Christ.  There is no third option.  We are not free agents – moral or otherwise – free to determine our identity and destiny out of a plethora of options.  It is a reality only distasteful insofaras I insist on myself being more than a creature, more than a being driven by either my genes or my enemies or my Savior.  But there is such freedom in recognizing that Christ is my Lord.  In the relief of knowing what I was saved from, and the hope and promise of what I am now and will one day be.  My Creator has obligated himself towards me as my Redeemer and Sanctifier, assuring me that my worth is far beyond my salary or retirement or social standing.  Worth enough, in fact, to sacrifice the Son of God for, so that I might be saved, delivered from being a slave of death to being a slave of life.

Comfort

June 25, 2017

I don’t wear my clerical very often, depending on your definition of often.  In general, I wear it no more than a few hours a week, on Sunday mornings.  While I’ve gotten far more comfortable with wearing it publicly, I don’t see that it offers the same blessings to those around me that it might have a few decades ago.  As the tragic hero Malcom Reynolds of Firefly/Serenity observed, in post-modern, post-Christian culture, “Men of God make everyone feel guilty and judged.”

My Sunday morning ritual is to pick up a bagel and tea for the final morning preparations before worship.  Which means that I arrive at the coffee shop in my clerical.  I’ve been going there for years.  They know my face and they know my order.  They know my profession.  But that has been the stimulus for startling few conversations about faith or God over the years.  The owner once confided to me when his daughter passed away, but hasn’t mentioned it since.  He talks with the language and nuances of vague Eastern philosophies, so I’m fairly certain he’s not Christian.

This morning I was placing my usual order.  They know what it is as I walk in and are already starting to get it ready.  The one hiccup is the new computerized system they use to log orders and record payment.  The particular type of tea I always order is singularly difficult for them to find in their.  Every.  Time.  Maybe I’m the only one who orders it.  Given the somewhat silly name of Jasmine Fancy Black, perhaps others are too embarrassed to order it.

This morning it came out that the reason nobody can ever find it in the system is that it is mislabeled.  Instead of Jasmine Fancy Black, it has to be searched for as Black Jasmine Fancy, a state of affairs created by the owner himself who mislabeled it in the system.  Finally we all understood why this was always such a problem!  He proffered mock apologies for his role in the confusion.  He’s only human.  We shouldn’t hold a simple mistake against him.  Then he glances at me and says “God will forgive me, right?”

What do you say in that situation?  To a person who very likely doesn’t believe in forgiveness or God in any Biblical sense of the words?  He was just kidding, but instantly I felt like I couldn’t just laugh it off with equally vague assurances and commendations of God’s unilateral forgiveness.  I responded with “Quite possibly!”, which caught him off guard.  He laughed and responded with partially feigned surprise “Possibly?!”

The young woman putting the bagel in the toaster responded “You have to ask him for forgiveness,” a very salient insight from an unexpected quarter since I don’t assume that she’s Christian either.  But it was encouraging that she understood the basic concept – there is forgiveness in God, but that forgiveness has to be received.  It has to be recognized as not just appropriate and desirable but actually necessary.  Until the moment of actual guilt and actual repentance, forgiveness is a nice theory, an intellectual construct.  But it is not actually received.

It isn’t forgiveness that is uncertain.  That’s an objective reality created by the incarnation, death, resurrection, ascension and promised return of the Son of God, Jesus of Nazareth.  But whether that forgiveness becomes mine or not, that’s the subjective part.  Will I receive it?  Will I recognize my need for it?

Reading Ramblings – July 2, 2017

June 25, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, July 2, 2017

Texts: Jeremiah 28:5-9; Psalm 119:153-160; Romans 7:1-13; Matthew 10:34-42

Context: There is familiarity here, as the lectio continua moves on to the next chapter of Romans, continues Chapter 10 in Matthew, and revisits Jeremiah again (not for the last time!).

Jeremiah 28:5-9 – Jeremiah lamented the difficulty of his position in last week’s reading, and here we see him tasked with taking to task the false prophet Hananiah. While Hananiah prophesied beneficial things to Jerusalem, Jeremiah reminds him that prophets of the past warned God’s people about bad things to come, and insists that the prophet who foresees only peace and prosperity will be vindicated only when peace and prosperity come to pass. Jeremiah is only reiterating what Moses told God’s people hundreds of years before – a prophet will only be known as speaking the Word of God when what that prophet foretells comes true (Deuteronomy 18:20-22). It is easy to say what people want to hear, to affirm them in the pleasures of their hearts and their desired course of action. It is harder to speak contrary to prevailing attitudes, and this is traditionally the work of God’s prophets – and his Church.

Psalm 119:153-160 – Psalm 119 is the longest psalm, an acrostic where each section begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet and extols the beauty and truth of God’s Word. These particular words of the psalmist would be well appreciated by Jeremiah many years later. How often does speaking God’s truth result in persecution and affliction! In such times we call to God for deliverance, knowing that remaining true to his Word is more important than the commendation of those around us. Life and salvation are contrasted with the fate of the wicked who seek their own pleasures and purpose rather than seeking wisdom in God’s Word. It may seem scant comfort in the moment, but we cling to God’s Word as the Word of truth, the only source of life and hope, knowing there can be no greater truth or comfort elsewhere (John 6:68). Sinful and self-seeking words may prevail for the moment, but only God’s Word is truly eternal.

Romans 7:1-13 – Paul has argued that the Christian is free, a slave to Christ rather than a slave to the Law of condemnation. While the Christian still sins, that sin is no longer held against her, but rather forgiven through faith in the atoning sacrifice of the Son of God, Jesus. In our baptism, we die with Christ and are raised with him as new creations, and therefore the Law does not have the same hold on us. It isn’t that the Law is irrelevant, or that we can ignore it. Rather, the Law no longer has the power to condemn or to kill. How can this be?

Paul uses an analogy from real life to show that this concept is an easily understood one. Laws apply only to the living. A spouse is bound to their spouse as long as they are both alive. But if the spouse dies, the surviving spouse is no longer bound to them in marriage, and is free to remarry without bringing the shame and sin of adultery upon themselves. Paul’s point is that we were once wed to the Law, or perhaps more accurately the Law was bound and wed to us. In that relationship we could not leave the Law, and the Law could only condemn us for failing to obey it. But in faith in Christ, we share in his death. The analogy here is not perfect, but it still conveys the basic idea. We have died and been raised as new creations. We are not bound to the Law as we used to be, and are free rather to serve Christ rather than obsessing about fulfilling every nuance of the Law. Before this, nothing we could do was ever good enough, never actually worked towards our benefit because the Law still condemned us for our failures. But raised in Christ and freed from the Law’s condemnation, what we do has real value and merit to us. Not for salvation – Christ accomplishes this alone – but rather for our sanctification, our being made gradually more and more Christ-like.

Paul now has to guard against a misconception. He is not saying that the Law is bad. Far from it! The Law teaches us what sin is. It isn’t that the Law is bad, but rather sin in us is bad, seeking to drive us towards disobedience to the Law and therefore to death. It is not the Law that killed us, but rather the sin in us. The Law has always been and will eternally true and good because it is the Word of God. Rather it is sin in us which is shown to be the true villain here. In recognizing my sin, my inability (and often times my lack of desire) to fulfill the Law’s demands, I recognize my need for a Savior, and this is ultimately the best good for me!

Matthew 10:34-42 – Jesus completes his instructions and prophesies to his disciples that began at the end of Chapter 9. Having explained that his disciples will face rejection, He takes a moment to clarify. It might seem that preaching the good news of the inbreaking Kingdom of Heaven would be universally well received. However this is not the case because of the power of sin and Satan in the world. The result then, will be that wherever the Gospel is preached there will be strife. Perhaps subtle, perhaps overt, perhaps mild, perhaps deadly. But strife there will be because of the enemy of Christ and us, Satan. The result is division. War. Each person who encounters the Good News of Jesus Christ must respond to that Good News. Those who accept it maybe persecuted for it, and that persecution may come from those closest to them, even members of their own family. While we may naturally imagine this for Muslim converts to Christianity in Muslim-dominated countries, the reality is that even within Christian nations families are often bitterly divided over the Gospel. In such situations we are encouraged, as with the psalmist, to cling to the Good News of God rather than giving in to the demands of even those closest to us.

We must, therefore, be ready to bear whatever suffering comes our way because of Christ. Jesus uses the strongest language and imagery here – the language of the cross, the ultimate form of shame and agony in the first century. He is saying that we must be prepared to remain faithful even if slated for execution. Such words no doubt rang in the ears of the disciples as they were martyred, and they continue to ring in the ears of martyrs today.

The world will laugh when we are dead and claim that it has won and demonstrated the folly of our faith by snuffing out our life. But the reality is that we are victors through faith in Jesus Christ, and God will be faithful to his promises to raise us to new life and joy for eternity. Jesus’ words in v.42 are encouraging, because in sharing the Gospel, we are sharing Jesus, and Jesus is with us through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. Are we worried about what to say, or how it will be received? Do we worry our words will be inadequate, our theological and Biblical acumen inadequate? No worry! God is with us! The power is in his Words, not ours! We are not isolated and alone – never! What power is with us, what amazing possibilities through Jesus Christ who strengthens us through the Holy Spirit!

While scholars debate if Jesus has in mind three separate groups or levels of individuals (prophet, righteous person, little ones), it seems best to presume that these are not distinctions but rhetorical repetition. Jesus is not creating a tiered system of rewards, but rather indicating that all of God’s faithful – both those who are sent and those who receive – will be blessed. The world may try to erase our memory, but it will not succeed. Our reward is assured.

Meanwhile, in California…

June 23, 2017

California continues to ban taxpayer funded state travel to a growing number of other states.  I’ve tried to determine if other states have a similar practice, but I can’t find any.  I’m not aware that these bans have ever been approved by the voters whose interests they claim to protect. I for one don’t agree with the philosophical basis for implementing these bans, and it seems yet another instance where a small group of people take it upon themselves to claim the representation of their constituency to do what *they* want to do, rather than what the voters actually tell them to do.

Universal (Catholic) Wisdom

June 22, 2017

A great article which I would argue encompasses all those who consider themselves Christians, not simply Catholics.  These are problems endemic throughout American Christianity (yes, even among conservative Lutherans!), and they are dangerous to people eternally as well as here and now.  How many of these are you guilty of?

 

Reading Ramblings – June 25, 2017

June 18, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: Third Sunday after Pentecost, June 25, 2017

Texts: Jeremiah 20:7-13; Psalm 91:1-16; Romans 6:12-23; Matthew 10:5a, 21-33

Context: All of the texts except for the Romans reading deal with the servant of God standing fast in the midst of trial and persecution, awaiting vindication from God. It is our prayer that should we be required to stand up for our faith, to give an answer for our hope, to maintain our fealty to Christ when we are demanded to recant, that we would remain faithful and steadfast, regardless of the consequences, firm in the knowledge that perhaps not this day, but some day, our God will vindicate himself and we will receive honor rather than the shame of the moment.

Jeremiah 20:7-13 – Jeremiah was a prophet in the late 7th/early 6th centuries BC, speaking God’s word near Jerusalem, in Jerusalem, and then to God’s people in dispersion after the fall of Jerusalem. He is called upon to speak words of terror and judgment in Jerusalem, for which he is abused (20:1-2). The words for this morning’s reading convey the suffering of Jeremiah, recently physically abused and publicly humiliated for faithfully speaking God’s Word. He is unhappy with the lot God has called him to because people only mock and insult him for speaking it. If he attempts not to speak God’s Word, he cannot hold out for long – it bursts out of him almost violently. He calls for God’s vindication and judgment against his enemies, even as he worries about their plots against his life. Before continuing on to strong words of despair, Jeremiah breaks forth in praise to God, perhaps divinely mandated and ordained praise!

Psalm 91:1-16 – What a beautiful psalm of hope and promise, calling the faithful to trust always in God who has the power to save against all odds, and who has promised ultimately to save us to himself for eternity. The psalmist uses vivid imagery to portray both the predicament of the speaker as well as the power of God. The speaker is beset by myriad threats, like bird with a snare, or a warrior facing the sword, or the warrior facing a barrage of arrows, or the vulnerable person stalked in darkness. The odds may not look good, but we are to always put our hope and trust in God, rather than ourselves or some other alleged source of protection or hope. Doing so promises us that we will see God’s glorious vindication, and the sorrow of those who persecuted us. The latter half of the psalm is familiar as Satan quotes it to Jesus while tempting him in the wilderness (Matthew 4:5-6). Satan omits one line which helps to clarify the context of the psalm, resulting in an interpretation which exaggerates the promise of physical protection in verse 12. The context is not so much physical protection (though the earlier verses of the psalm lend themselves well to this interpretation!), but rather protection in all the speakers ways, so that the speaker does not wander into areas of sin or danger to himself but rather remains guided and therefore protected by God’s Word.

Romans 6:12-23 – Last week’s reading from Romans 5 emphasized that Christ’s death saves us from our deepest and darkest moments of sin and helplessness. What does this mean for the one rescued in Christ? This week’s reading begins to explore this. First off, the one saved by Christ should flee from sin and not let it be the dominating force in her life (reining over her). This involves proactive choices – not presenting our bodies to opportunities for sin. This might mean the tongue and gossip or slander, or the hands with theft, or the eye with lust. Battling sin means taking steps to try and avoid it. The motivation for this is the knowledge of what God has made us through faith in Jesus Christ. We are his. We are bought with a price, and we do not exist simply for our own desires and self-gratification. We are now under the rule of grace, rather than the power of the law condemning us in our sin. We sin, but the result is no longer death because of faith in Jesus, but rather in forgiveness which creates a state of grace.

The wily hearer/reader might be inclined to think that this means we can sin more – all we want! – since it no longer leads to condemnation under the Law. Obviously this is not what Paul means. How we choose to utilize our bodies (all of our selves, not just our physical bodies) is indicative of who we desire to serve. If we continue to choose sin actively and consistently, we are showing that we really prefer the lordship of sin rather than the lordship of Christ. This is not the case for the one in Christ, because starting with our hearts, we are being made obedient to God’s teaching. Our heart strives for this and knows that it is best, even when our minds and our bodies betray us. Our heart is enslaved to righteousness in Christ, not to sin. This will work itself out from the heart, by the power of the Holy Spirit and our cooperation, so that the sin in our lives is weakened, reduced, and we find it no longer holds the power over us it used to. This is a difficult and painful process! Perhaps it was easier before we came to Christ! Certainly – but our ease and comfort in our sin was leading us only to death and destruction. The harder road of sanctification by the power of the living God within us leads us to life. It builds us up, rather than tearing us down to nothing.

Matthew 10:5a, 21-23 – Jesus continues to instruct his disciples regarding their mission trip that He is sending them on. His words mix in this chapter, referring at some points to their immediate, short-term mission trip, and in other areas to the larger mission work they will embark on after his death, resurrection and ascension. The words in this section indicate that He is speaking now in this latter sense.

What is the effect of the Gospel? It brings hope and life to those who hear it and accept it with gladness as the truth. But many will be unwilling or unable to hear and receive it as such. This creates tension and conflict which will unfortunately play out not just on the larger societal level but within individual families as well. One might easily think of Muslim converts to Christ who are discovered and prosecuted or killed by their families. But one might also easily think of loved ones closer to home who have rejected Christ and reject their families as well. Satan’s power and deception in this world inevitably will create conflict where the Gospel is preached, heard, and where the kingdom of God is thus established visibly. Those who dare to speak and cling to the Gospel will be hated, because they will refuse to embrace the standards the world insists on, refuse to compromise with evil, and will be persecuted even to death in order to keep them from speaking the hated Word of God which reveals truth and convicts sin.

Persecution will come to those who share the Gospel, and we see this readily in the Book of Acts as the apostles suffer for their faithfulness and desire to share the good news of the resurrected Son of God with others. They do indeed flee from town to town for their very lives! Their mission work will remain by and large to the lost sheep of Israel, even though they will also be spreading the Gospel beyond. Jesus seems to have in mind the personal evangelism of his disciples, indicating that before they are able to preach in all the Jewish towns and cities, they will see God’s judgment. Scholars almost universally see this as the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 AD by the Romans. Jesus indicates in multiple places (such as Matthew 23:34-39) that something terrible is coming to Jerusalem. So Jesus’ words here in Matthew 10 speak to the disciples’ mission work in their lifetime (corporately not individually, since some of them are martyred prior to the destruction of Jerusalem).

Opportunities

June 17, 2017

I’m in the process of planning a weekly radio show on a local talk radio station.  The intent is to give people with questions, issues, concerns, etc. about the Christian faith a forum for dialogue with the Biblical Christian witness.  It’s not a Christian station because I’m not interested in arguing with Christians about doctrinal differences.  Rather, I hope to engage people outside a formal community of faith, whether they consider themselves Christian or not.  The station theoretically has a listener base of about 18,000 people.

Each week I’ll hope to have listeners calling in with things they want to talk about or hear the Biblical response to.  While the sales rep for the station cautioned me that call-in shows are rare, I think I have some good contacts in the community that could help supply at least 2-3 calls per show if not more.  We shall see.  Other folks have asked about me doing a podcast instead – a pre-recorded digital audio (or audio and video) show that would be hosted online somewhere.  The problem is that podcasts rely on self-marketing.  I have to find ways to make people aware of the podcast and encourage them to go and stream it or download it.  With a relatively small base of people – many of whom are less than tech-savvy, this seems like a slow way to proceed.  I’m considering putting together a podcast as well, but it would be supplemental to the radio show.

Of course, this is a pay-to-play arrangement.  It will cost us money every week and month for a one-hour live show that is rebroadcast three other times during the week.  Our congregation can afford this ministry, and I think there are folks who will step up to continue to support it if it proves to be effective in reaching people (not necessarily in bringing in new members).

An alternative is to try and get a time slot on a public station run at the local university.  There is an information meeting this Tuesday evening, a mandatory meeting if you hope to get a shot at a time slot.  I’m praying that I will, and I’m curious to see how it goes.