Forget Easter!

April 8, 2017

Every 30 years or so I go clothes shopping whether I need to or not.  I recently wore out my corduroy bell bottoms with the really cool cuffs at the bottom.  (FYI… the word “corduroy” literally means “kings clothing.”  I’m all about that!)  And my paisley shirts were getting a bit raggedy as well.  Sooooooooooo… it was time to hit the clothing aisles at my local textile establishment.  Well, okay… Walmart.  I should mention that it’s not that I’m opposed to being stylish (well, okay it is partly that), but it’s mostly about the fact that I despise shopping for clothes!  What a monumental waste of time.  I know, I know… “Clothes make the man” blah, blah, blah.  I guess I’m not much of a man… or something.  I have known men over the years that have never bought their own clothes… that chore has been given to, or commandeered by, their wives.  Not sure how that’s possible but Ellen… um… I have a request.

Okay, so maybe I’m exaggerating a bit.  Just a bit.  It’s actually the “clothes make the man (or woman)” proverb that I would like to pursue a bit.  I realize of course that it is somewhat of an over generalization, but the idea, of course, is a two-fold notion.  First, that folks make an opinion of us based on our outward appearance.  And second, that we actually behave to a certain degree based on what we are wearing.  For the most part a tuxedo calls for a whole different way of comportment than does… say… sweats.  Or a formal gown generally encourages a different attitude than spandex yoga pants.  In church, we (sadly, in some cases) base our reverence and the respect of others toward God, on clothing.  The idea is something like this: If you don’t dress “appropriately,” i.e., according to my standards, then you are not showing proper respect for God.  Forget the notion that gossipy, judgmental people are showing even LESS respect for God!  But I digress…

I suspect that most of us need to take some time to look into the heart of another before we make judgements about who or what they are.  I know… it’s hard to see someone’s heart.  And outward appearance and behavior are certainly an indicator of inward values and attitudes… but not always.  For a moment let’s proceed as if outward appearance/behavior is THE indicator of what’s inside.  How should Christians then appear to the world?  Note I didn’t ask how we should appear to one another but, “How should we appear to the world?”  What sort of values and behaviors should we exhibit that will unmistakably brand us as “Christ-ones.”  Where is the place that we should drive our stake in the ground and say “I will not be moved from this spot?”

For some the answer to that question is based on social issues, i.e., you must uphold this social cause lest you are not a believer.  Or you must be of a certain political party.  For others, it’s based on their church traditions, i.e., you must be affiliated with this church, or you must believe a certain limited doctrine (the emphasis is on the word “traditions” like “no dancing,” or “no drinking”).  I realize there are fine lines with some of these things.  I mean there are certain doctrines that ARE essential in order to be Christian.  Proper theology of The Trinity, for example.  Again the question is, “How should we appear to the world?”  What should they see when they look at Christians?  I think the simple answer is this… the world should see a group of people who have this moniker;  “We will ‘out love’ you in the Name of Jesus Christ.”  What do you think of that?

A few verses to consider:

1 John 2:10

Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble.

 1 John 3:10

This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.

1 John 3:11

For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another.

1 John 3:14

We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death.

1 John 3:18

Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

1 John 4:7

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.

1 John 4:8

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

1 John 4:20

Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.

There are numerous other verses in 1 John with a similar sentiment.  I know that some might say, “Well, these verses are intended for Christians toward Christians.”  Then they need to visit:

Matthew 5:43-44

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you

Mark 12:32-34

32 “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. 33 To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

34 When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.

We are clearly called to be the people of “love.”  And yet we seem to have grown so far from that.  The Church and Christian people have a reputation in the World but it is not as the people who will “out-love” others.  We need to profoundly change that opinion of us.

Let me make a somewhat offensive statement.  Until you/we/I have made a radical commitment to begin to love the world… love our enemies… love our neighbors… love those who are hard to love…  then I wonder if we ought to even bother with Easter?  Because without love… we have missed the point anyway.

Anger or Grace?

Warning… semi-rant spoiler alert!

A long time ago I knew a woman who had a very different way of viewing the world from me.  We often talked about our conflicting values but, surprise surprise, we actually liked one another.  (And still do.)  I remember on one occasion her saying something like this:  “Do you know what your problem is?!”  (Actually my problems are legion.)  “You are an idealist!  You want to see the best in people and if you can’t see the best you make excuses for why they are not who they should be.”  Truthfully and sadly… that guy is gone.  Something to do with age, maturity, various experiences (some of them not so good)…  Oh, I still have smatterings of that old ideology but not nearly what I once had.  That being said, I do have high expectations for those who claim to know Christ.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not a hypocrite.  I have high expectations for myself as well, and I often fall short to my continued regret and sorrow.  The desires for Godliness are still there ripping me apart as I also struggle with the “old man.”  You know, the broken sinful one. (Romans 6:6 “We know that our old man was crucified with him so that the body of sin would no longer dominate us, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.”) So please do not read this essay as a condemnation of those who do not have their lives all together as I do because, as Paul said in 1 Timothy 1 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.  I guess if Paul can admit to his short comings… well…

Let me also make it clear that I am writing to those of you who claim Jesus as your Lord.  Maybe you use different language to describe your faith but in the end… well… it’s about Lordship.  And, in particular, who is yours?  I have little expectation for non-believers other than continued self-centeredness.  When light shines through them, it’s all “gravy.”  I find myself saddened by the anger, vitriol, cynicism, and constant haranguing of “Christians” who do not agree with others on a variety of items whether they be political, theological, topical, etc.  What should we “Christians” be known as in this country in the 21st century?  Are we the “people of the issues?”  Are we “the religious Democrats?”  Are we the “religious Republicans?”  Are we the “religious independents?”  Are we the “Christian Pro-lifers?”  Are we the Christian Pro-choicers?”  Are we the Christian “Obama people?”  Are we the Christian “Trump people?”

Much of what I see on Social media these days by self-proclaimed “Christians” is anything but “Christian.”  Their comments are agenda driven.  They are surely not Jesus driven.  I see no “grace,” or “love,” or “kindness.”   I have not seen one person remind us to pray for those on the opposite side of issues… not prayers for “illness or assassination” as have been abominably mentioned for over 8 years now, but Godly prayers for health, blessed lives, for their families, for wisdom, for their faith….  Nope, I guess we are the “people of the issues”, not “the people of prayer.”  What ever happened to grace, love, kindness, mercy, forgiveness?  These things have somehow gotten lost in our desire to take a stand on political or social concerns.  And I would add that for too many, they have gotten lost in our need to vent our inner anger and rage that likely have more to do with our own sinfulness than the defense of “issues.”  The world needs to hear a whole lot more about “grace and love” and a whole lot less from those who can’t keep their angry pie holes closed.  Just saying.  (Whew!  Good thing I just thought that and didn’t actually write it down.)

I know… someone is going to say, “Well, Jesus got angry.  He even tore up the temple!  Not to mention the fact that he humiliated the religious leaders of the day on numerous occasions.  So, there is Biblical precedent for the expression of ‘righteous anger’.”  Can we be clear on this?  First, no doubt Jesus did those things but they are greatly outweighed by His teachings on love.  Second keep in mind that his outrage is almost without exception directed toward religious leaders who were leading people astray, not toward political types.  Use whatever rationale you want for your anger toward your political enemies, but don’t drag Jesus into it.  This is on you, all on you.  (Well okay you can drag some Old Testament prophets into it if you want.  But keep in mind those prophets were talking to God’s “chosen people” what we might think of as The Church, not to secular politicians.)

I think I’ll conclude with this.  Should we have values that cause us to take on issues?  Of course!  Absolutely!  Without a doubt!  Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a great German theologian and pastor before and during WW2, was a pacifist when the War began.  He eventually came to the conclusion however, that sometimes evil is so great that there are no options but to stand against it and destroy it.  In time he became part of a plan to assassinate Hitler.  But you also need to know that he came to these conclusions and actions with much soul searching, grief and sadness.  I see little soul searching, grief or sadness by many as they spew their rants to friends, family and on the faceless internet.  I should add that Bonhoeffer was vindictively killed by the Nazis as they saw the war coming to an end.

If your hope is to bring about change consider this challenge:

Take a week (or a month if you dare) and send a message (direct or otherwise) to family, friends, “Facebook friends” and anyone else you choose.  The message is this (use your own words).  I am about the love and grace of Jesus Christ for all.”  You are not allowed “buts,” or explanatory prefaces.  Just love and grace.  No other messages… only this one.

I bet some of you just can’t bring yourself to do it.  The Body of Christ is diminished because that.

      

Thanksgiving

November 23, 2016

I was in the midst of a conversation with my son Ben a few days ago when he reminded me of the WW 1 story about soldiers on the two opposing sides who suspended their fighting during Christmas. There are several accounts of them actually engaged in soccer matches against one another.  There are similar recordings of the same sort of things happening during the United States’ Civil War.  They didn’t play soccer of course, but they stopped killing one another long enough to meet in the middle of the battle zone and in some cases to exchange gifts. HOW AMAZING IS THAT!?

Can I suggest that we do the same this holiday season? Can we set aside our anger, hurt, social agendas, political agendas, personal agendas, rudeness, ungodliness, self righteousness…, for the sake of peace and those we love?  Or are our social and political interests that much more important than the issues facing the soldiers in those long ago wars?  I am and have been concerned greatly about the damage done to families and friendships over the caustic election process that we just experienced.  I fear that across this country, families will meet over turkey and mashed potatoes with a pretense of “Thanksgiving.”  And then some insensitive, egocentric moron will begin to spill their guts about an issue related to the election and the next thing you know, folks who claim to love one another will no longer be speaking.  Shame, shame, shame!  Senseless, senseless, senseless!  Stupid, stupid, stupid!  (I feel sort of strongly about this.)

Some members of my extended family will read this rumination. I hope and pray that what I am about to write will not hurt them.  Sadly, one of the legacies of my family is brokenness and hostility.  There have been too many years lost when “this one” is no longer speaking to “that one.”  Parents to children; children to parents; cousins to cousins; siblings to siblings… most any combination you can think of.  There are broken relationships that have been unresolved for years because one person or more just wants to live in denial and their own selfish oblivion and ambition.  (Of course it’s never seen that way.  It’s always, “I’m justified because so and so did such and such.”)  I have sadly had my own part to play in all of this.  I know there are difficult things to deal with but…,  I’m pretty sure this brokenness is not what God intended.

I know my family is not the only one to have these struggles. And quite honestly, it breaks my heart.  But you know what?  More families will be in this situation come January. Many more, I fear!  It doesn’t have to be…, but it will be.  How sad is that? I know that this does not apply to everyone but for many, your family may be your last “line of defense” in a frightening world.  You cannot afford to forsake them over an election and the things that “might not” be vs. the things that “might be.”  It’s possible that you will need your family in the years to come!

The Bible doesn’t say as much about families as we might like but it says A LOT about “love.”  Frankly, it’s a subject we don’t know much about.  Oh, I know we say or think we do but our actions betray us.  The word “love” that I speak of is a Greek word – “Agape.”  It means “self sacrificial love,” i.e., we give up our own desires so that we might serve, care for and even die for someone else.*  So, who do you love to that extent?  Seriously?  Remember, the key phrase is “self sacrifice.”  I often tell couples getting married that the problem here is that my generation knows nothing of sacrifice… and theirs knows less.  They are about to embark on a journey that requires something they know nothing about.  They better learn quickly!

So, it is my hope and prayer that you and yours have a wonderful Thanksgiving and Christmas. Please take to heart what I mentioned above.  You might even want to forward this rumination to a few folks (or include it in your Christmas cards!  Well, okay, maybe not.)

Just sayin.

* 1 Corinthians 13

13 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

The Church of “not”

Years ago I was with a friend driving through some rural parts of West Virginia and we passed a church that advertised themselves on their sign:  “We are the church that doesn’t use a common cup.”  Seriously?!?!  That’s the message we want to send to the world?!?!  I have never seen a kiddie pool that shallow.  And yet many of us want to belong to “the church of not.”  What does that mean?  It refers to the churches and people who define themselves by what they don’t believe or what they are “not” in favor of or what they are against.  You know what I mean?  “We are the church that is not in favor of:  drinking, smoking, dancing, playing cards, premarital sex, homosexuals, abortion, pro lifers, divorce, any Bible but the KJV, guns, anyone opposed to guns, democrats, republicans, nuclear arms, welfare, liberals, conservatives, birth control, Priests, seminary education, unions, adult baptism exclusively, infant baptism, and of course using a common cup.”  I’m sure I could go on.

There are many things to “believe” in “the church of not.”  Maybe it’s not “the church of not” that you resonate with… maybe you espouse the “faith of not,” i.e., “I believe that we should not __________.”  You fill in the blank.  Again, nothing wrong with having a clear theology.  It’s troublesome however if “the faith of not” is the “sign” we hang on ourselves.  And I should add, the sign we show the rest of the world.

Do not misunderstand me.   Do not misunderstand me.  Do not misunderstand me.  I am not saying that we shouldn’t have clearly defined standards based on good theology and the scriptures!  I would never say that, encourage that, or personally believe that.  I am simply talking about how we “portray” ourselves and what kind of things we choose to focus on or prioritized in our faith.

Allow me to give an example.  For those with children… if you were asked what sort of parents you are, or what your philosophy of parenting is, what might you say?  You could say, “We are strict.  We believe that children ought to be disciplined when they do things that are opposed to our family values.”  Frankly, for the most part I have no problem with that.  (Depending on how we might define “strict” and “discipline.”)  But I would wonder about anyone who would portray themselves that way from the outset.  Might it be possible to say, “We are parents who love our children unconditionally.  We believe in Christian values.  We believe families are best served with a mother (female) and a father (male)…”  We can say all of that while still valuing discipline.  Get it?  Would you leave your children in the care of those first parents?  I wouldn’t.  Not because I don’t agree with discipline but because I’m concerned about how they prioritize their parenting.

So when we think about a church… or even our own faith, do we focus on the “nots,” or do we focus on the “yeas.”  Yes, I believe in and practice the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  Yes, I believe in, and receive and give Grace.  Yes, I believe in and strive to practice the unconditional love of God.  Yes, I believe in expressing the Fruit of the Holy Spirit – Galatians 5: “22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

I would encourage you to do a study on the things Jesus talked about.  How often did he express the “not” sentiment?  Surely he did on occasion, so I am not denying that.  Clearly he talked about things that people ought to eschew.  But what were those things?  Primarily the things that really got Jesus riled up were when religious leaders led people away from the faith for their own ends.  Or when the Law was used to oppress people rather than to show forgiveness, mercy and love.  Or maybe do a study on the things Jesus NEVER mentioned like slavery or oppression of women.  He actually did address these things, but not directly… not in a “not” kind of way.  What he did was talk a lot about “love” and “forgiveness.”  Self sacrificial love, IF PRACTICED, sort of takes the ammunition away from oppression and slavery as we knew it in this country.

I would say that the way we behave and the way we choose to describe ourselves and our priorities has much to say about our hearts, i.e., do we begin with our anger, or do we begin with God’s love?

One of the great lies in our culture these days is worthy of combating.  We are told in any number of ways that we cannot possibly love someone and disagree with their values or life style.  THAT IS A LIE!!! We can surely do that… we just don’t.  The accusation that it can’t be done is wrong.  The accusation that we can but we don’t (if that accusation is ever made) is right on.

We as “Christians” have spent enough time giving lip service to our belief in expressing the love of God.  Maybe it’s time that we stopped talking about it and actually started doing it.

Here is a practical exercise.  Begin by thinking of 3 persons or types of people that you have a really hard time loving.  You know who I mean… at least for you, you know.  And then pray this prayer, “God, how do I express Your love to ________________________.”   If the answer to your prayer comes back, “Condemn them.”  Or “do not forgive them.”  I think you are not hearing from God.

What are the two greatest commands according to Jesus?  1.  Love God.  2.  Love everybody else.  If we can’t show that then we are not walking with Jesus.