Responding to crises

November 20, 2015

Years ago I had a conversation with a dear friend whose marriage was falling apart under the most dreadful of circumstances. He had been a giant in the faith to me but the pain of betrayal had caused him to question his beliefs and to abandon the Church. I remember talking to him and asking if he had spoken to his pastor. He said “No. All he’s going to do is point me to Ephesians 5.” These are the verses he was referring to:

21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

My friend went on to say “He (his pastor) doesn’t understand that it’s not that easy.” I can’t remember many wise things I have said in my life but I think this might have been one of them. I responded, “Who EVER said that marriage as described in Ephesians 5 was ‘easy’?!?!?!” Keep the notion that things are never as “easy” as we would like them to be as you read on.

Like many of you I have had numerous conversations in the past week regarding terrorism and immigrants from Syria and other parts of the Muslim world. This is a very difficult and complicated time to be living. I have heard many people on television talking about the protection of “American values.” Seriously, I don’t know what “American values” are any more. I really don’t. I mean, I think I used to have some sense of that, but not anymore. And maybe that’s what I find so distressing in all of this. How can we talk about “American values” when we have systematically and deliberately been the melting pot of the world for over 2 centuries? I’m not saying that’s wrong by the way, it just points out a difficult reality. It’s impossible, it seems, to have common principles while at the same time praising and encouraging diversity.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not as naïve as one might think. There has never been a time in our country when we ALL agreed on anything. But there was a time, even in my life, when there was some sense of much agreed upon values. (I should add that some of those were wrong and sinful… Racism for example) That time has clearly gone. We are living in a moral and ethical quagmire.

On many college campuses we are reaping what we have sown for 3 generations, i.e., “The world centers around ME… PERIOD. If you do anything to cause me discomfort, I will destroy you.” All of this I might add is being propagated in the name of “tolerance.” How crazy is that? We have gone backwards in the “race wars” against bigotry. We have allowed skin color rather than the character of a person to once again become the focus of our attention. And surprisingly that comes from people of color this time. We have systematically and convincingly shoved The Church and Christian faith onto the rear burner and they will soon be taken off of the stove entirely and forcefully deposited into the back of a cupboard like an old sentimental casserole pan only to be pulled out on Christmas and Easter (if even then). I should add that we in The Church are much to blame for our demise as we have chosen to emulate the Culture rather than speak to it. Thus we become more and more irrelevant every day. When you stand for “everything” you in fact stand for “nothing.”

Paul was writing about the moral atrocities in the 1st Century, but he easily could have said, “Dear Churches in the USA in the 21st century…” Romans 1 24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.”

Because of our lack of leadership in the Christian world, I’m not sure The Church in the USA can or should try to speak for Jesus these days. Me thinks we may have lost our credibility. And in my humble opinion… we’re not getting it back.

So, what to do, what to do? How do we as Christians respond to this most recent crisis? Let me suggest this; meditate and become immersed with

Matthew 5:43-48 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. …

Let’s be very clear here… I do not advocate grappling with these verses flippantly. Nor do I think this is simple. And I have to confess I’m not really sure how to do this or how to deal with these verses pragmatically. But I know this… if we are not willing to put Jesus’ words into practice (whatever that means), then we have no right to speak for the faith. Right? I mean, if someone asks you how these words of Jesus work themselves out in your life and faith, what are you prepared to say?

How do we approach seeking after God in prayer? Well, I think the only valid way is to begin by setting aside our agenda (in some cases LONG held agendas) and preparing to hear new, difficult and challenging things.

I suspect demanding times are ahead. What is God saying to you?

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Symbols

June 26, 2015

Years ago I had Plantars warts on the bottom of my right foot. They literally covered the entire surface. If you don’t know about these sorts of warts, they grow inward not outward and can be painful. I went to the doctor and he gave me a prescription for an acidic liquid that I would “paint” on my foot each day that killed the top layer of skin. Each night the dead skin had to be sanded off. Ellen literally used a power disk sander on the bottom of my foot every night for months! I would lay on the floor with my foot propped up on her lap as she sanded away without trying to go too deep and draw blood. The short of this story is… it didn’t work. I still had them after months and months of “painting and sanding.” I finally went to a different doctor. He said that he would burn the roots of the warts and they would go away. So, using some sort of “hot poker-like” instrument he burned 5 little holes into the bottom of my foot. Within weeks the warts were all gone and have never returned. The moral of the story? Dealing with symptoms doesn’t make the illness go away. One has to kill the root. Keep that in mind as you read on.

If you have been paying attention at all you are familiar with the controversy over the display of the Confederate Flag that is taking place across our land. The last time I looked several states had taken it down from their government offices and it’s no longer sold in some large retail stores. Allow me to jump into the fray for a moment.

First and foremost, we need to – MUST – combat racism in our country in every way we can. There is no way we can claim to be a civilized people as long as we separate ourselves based on our skin color or our heritage… Period! I know there are cultural issues and divides. I know there are things done by others that frighten and appall some of us. I know that values are not shared across the board. I know that there are too many young black men in prison. I know that there are way too many illegal immigrants. I know that economic divides exacerbate our issues. All of these things and many more cause untold problems, but they are not a reason to hate other people. Period! Especially, I might add, if you claim to be a Christian. Period!

Now, about the flag situation. Some have claimed that the origins of the Confederate Flag are not founded in racism. It was and is representative of the desire for an “independent Southern State.” That may be true. And it may continue to be true for some or even many. But here’s the crux of the problem. Symbols evolve. What they may have meant a hundred years ago may not be what they mean now. Can anyone with any sense really claim that there are not groups and individuals who rally around this flag for the cause of racism? Seriously? Whether folks like it or not, the symbol has evolved into something divisive and in some circles… evil.

Allow me to mention a couple of other examples. Maybe the most prominent one: The Nazi Swastika. Take some time to do a little research and you’ll find this symbol has its roots in ancient history. And even up until the early part of the 20th Century it was intended to represent “good luck” and “well being” for those who flew it. Would anyone like to see its return? Well, some would, but I think that most right thinking people understand that its meaning has evolved and it no longer is suitable to be flown. Do not misunderstand me. I am not commenting on whether people have a “right” to fly this flag – just whether they should, and what it actually means now.

Other examples from the Christian faith might be the use of Christmas trees or the word “Easter.” Both of these have their roots in pagan traditions, but they don’t mean that anymore. Obviously their meanings have evolved over the years. Those who say, “Well, Christians use pagan symbols” are just silly and naive. Who identifies these things with paganism any longer? Few, if any. It has been many centuries since these “symbols” have been associated with pagan religions. Again, the symbolism has evolved.

I hope you see the association with “plantars warts?” Surely we should no longer encourage racist symbols, but that’s not really the issue is it? Nor will eliminating racist symbols from our buildings and flag poles exterminate hatred for other human beings. The truth is this. We are broken human beings and our hearts are blackened. No government or social movement will alter that. Oh sure, we can make some changes. But they will not last! The wickedness in our humanity will always come to the surface. Dealing with symptoms without dealing with the root is a lesson in futility.

I have no expectation that non-Christians will adopt the Christian value of love. Not that they can’t. I just don’t expect it. But for Believers??? Racism is sinful and needs to be eradicated from our hearts and our souls. Period! We begin in the place we should always begin with these things… REPENTANCE. The “act” of saying, “God, I’m sorry for my sin. Please CHANGE my heart.” If we are not willing to do that in the Name of Jesus Christ then we choose to be in rebellion against God. Good luck with that.

Take some time to consider these verses today and how they apply to your life.

Matthew 22:36-40
36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Matthew 5:43-48
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.