Saturday, June 15, 2019

A Love Story About Golf


I was scheduled to play a competitive match against another golfer, so I was focused on being focused. Then the pro shop put another single golfer with us, which is perfectly fine. Except.

My partner’s first question was whether I minded if he played music on his big speaker. As politely as I could, I told him that in fact I did mind. Not the best start to building a friendship. It soon became obvious that my friend really needed his music or he was not nearly as good of a golfer as he imagined in his own mind, so after every bad shot (of which there were many) he uttered some sort of expletive, each one growing louder.

My new friend was playing expensive Titleist Pro V1 golf balls. He lost two of them in two holes, and he became even more upset with Jesus.  We searched far and wide but, alas, they were lost.

After nearly four hours together, he asked me what I did for a living. I had been waiting for this moment.  As soon as I told him I was a pastor in a local church there was this very awkward silence.  He asked me which church, and when I told him he suddenly became very interested in our location and history.  What a transformation!

On the final hole he hit his ball well behind the green and we thought it landed in a parking lot.  But, as we drove toward the area we saw a ball lying on a cart path. I jokingly said he should go check out the ball because perhaps someone had found one of his expensive lost Pro V’s and left it for him. He walked over to it, picked it up and returned to the cart with this strange smile, saying, “You are going to like this. It is a Pro V1. Read what it says.” He handed it to me and I saw that someone had inscribed it with green felt tip ink and the words, “Jesus Loves You.”

I could not have laughed harder or louder.  He offered me the ball.  I said, “No, I think that is one you should keep. Because it’s true.” He put it in his pocket. The rest is up to the Spirit.   

Saturday, June 1, 2019

'Rubber Time', or Never Be Late Again


Does ‘time’ own you or do you own ‘time’? I am annoyed when people are late; I get upset with myself when I am running late, manufacturing excuses as I zoom down the road trying to make up time; if I wait on a service provider more than 10 minutes for an appointment I will usually complain and/or leave.  So, yes, ‘time’ owns me.

Maybe I have it all wrong, and the people who don’t worry about being on ‘time’ are the smarter ones.  Doug Bratt, who writes commentary for a Calvin Seminary website, describes how his Indonesian friends refer to ‘rubber time’.  Meeting times are just suggestions.  Indonesians are, Bratt writes, often 30-45 minutes later in appearing than the time originally agreed upon. But, and here is the key, when they show up they are really ‘present’ in the moment.

I think this is a brilliant approach to punctuality.  You will never be late again if you simply train your friends to know that you live by ‘rubber time.’  You are stretching the definition of being ‘on time’ to arrive, say, within the hour.  But, and this is critical, when you show up you will not look at your mobile device; you will not be thinking about where you need to get next; you will be fully engaged in being present in the moment and in the lives of the ones you are with. 

Now, if you decide to try this (or maybe you are already living in ‘rubber time’), I make no promises about how often you will be invited to dinner parties. I give no assurances that your dentist will see you when you arrive.  But, I guess if the ‘cable guy’ and delivery companies can give us three hour windows for a so-called ‘appointment’, why can’t we all try it?

Bratt suggests that perhaps we should look at Jesus’ promise that he is ‘coming soon’ (Rev. 22:20) as a ‘rubber time’ event. Jesus isn’t late, as we in the western world define time. He is going to show up ‘soon’. He isn’t ‘late’ to the promised party, he is just fully engaged elsewhere for now. But, when Jesus does arrive, we will see him face to face. And time will matter no more.

I cannot wait!

Saturday, May 25, 2019

"Planting Weekend"


Memorial Day Weekend, here in the Upper Midwest, is for many gardeners the official start of the planting season.  There is a (fairly) good chance that we won’t have an overnight freeze until the late Fall, and the balance of sun and rain should be healthy for life. Memorial Day Weekend, around the United States, is for many, but sadly a dwindling number, a weekend to remember lives which have been sacrificed for the freedoms which our nation enjoys.  In the lexicon of Paul, bodies which are ‘planted’ in the ground are but seeds which will grow into new bodies. (I Corinthians 15:42,ff.) So Memorial Day Weekend is a time to hope in things planted, seeds that will grow into beautiful flowers and that from the ‘hallowed ground’ will grow miraculous bodies. It is a weekend to exercise our capacities to remember, to hope, to commune. It is a time to exercise our faith that seeds planted in faith do not die in vain.

Faith (by Karen S. Bard)
“…all things are less than
they are,
all are more”   -Paul Celan
Consider the seed.
Consider the flower containing the seed.
Consider the stem, that shy messenger, carrying the secrets
of the underworld into the daylight.
Consider the root, fingering its way down, intimate
with the stones, the amazed dirt-
consider the seed, the stem
within the seed, the root
within the seed, the flower
within the seed.
Consider your left palm, warm, familiar, cupped
around a handful of seeds.
Consider your faith.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

The Music of Heaven


“Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty”. “Worthy is the Lamb”.  As you read these song lyrics a tune probably comes to your mind.  Music: melodies, harmonies, lyrics, rhythms, brings our minds to different places, creates memories of people (old flames, grandparents) or places (worship spaces, ballparks).

The lyrics above are taken from Revelation 4 and 5’s songs, the music of Heaven. These are the lyrics all of God’s children sing gathered around the Throne.  But, which notes should go with those words?  Did God give Handel a special revelation of what those notes should be, as captured in Handel’s Messiah?  Maybe Jesus prefers the Hebrew tunes he grew up with, the ones he sang in synagogue as a boy.  Perhaps the angels in charge of worship like to mix it up, ‘I’m a little bit country; I’m a little bit rock and roll.’  I don’t know how ‘Worthy is the Lamb’ would sound in a country twang, but there must be someone who has tried it and people who love it. And what of all of the millions assembled there whose memories are triggered not by organs and cymbals but by African drums, South American flutes, Canadian brass?

I join those who believe that Music was woven into the atmosphere of the Universe because God loves to be praised with music.  He set people free to pluck notes from the air, but God’s ‘middle C’ in Michigan sounds just like a ‘middle C’ in Madagascar.  It is all God’s music.  Just like God loves many languages, God loves many melodies.  Perhaps the songs around the Throne will be like modern churches: if you like hard rock worship tunes go to church X; if you like organ-accompanied 18th century hymns go to church ‘Y’;  and so on.

We know the lyrics to the music of heaven. But we await the revelation of the melodies. I personally am hoping it sounds close to the final minutes of Mahler’s 2nd, the Resurrection Symphony. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RONBzkthUjM

When you gather around the Throne I suspect that whatever style of music gets your motor running, you will be able to jam to it like there is no tomorrow.

Because, well, there will be no tomorrow.

“Let everything that has breath praise the LORD!” (Psalm 150) AMEN!


Saturday, May 11, 2019

The Languages of Heaven


How many languages does Jesus speak?  On earth he spoke his local dialect, a version of Aramaic, and we can be quite sure he read and spoke Hebrew; maybe some Greek, a little Latin. (English, in case you are wondering, was still five centuries in the future.) 

Then, after his Resurrection, Jesus ascended into Heaven, and there he is, in his new body, surrounded by people from ‘every nation, tribe, people and language.’ (Rev. 7:9)  How does he communicate with them all? Well, Jesus is God, after all, so, we can imagine with some certainty that he knows every language.  But, what about the rest of the ‘great multitude.’  They praise God on the Throne with thousands upon thousands of voices in thousands of ancient and modern tongues. While the Father, Son and Holy Spirit can understand the cacophony of words and songs, can the people understand each other? Is there a language of heaven, or does everyone retain their own language which they knew on this Old Earth?

There is, as you know, this odd little story tucked in Genesis in which the LORD intentionally confuses the one language of the people of the earth into many languages. (Genesis 11:1-9) This in turn causes the people to scatter around the world.  The rest, as they say, is history.

We live in a world which has many ways to speak all sorts of threats, hate, war. Wars and rumors of war will never cease on this Old Earth. Even if we all understood each other’s languages, we will not all ‘understand’ each other, our fears, our anger, our territorialism.  We try, most of the time, to speak diplomatically, translating words as best we can to help us know what we are trying to say and why we are trying to say it, but we are not very good at it, speaking generally of the human race.

And yet, one day, there we will all be.  The people we mocked, detested, hated even, gathered around the Throne waving palm branches in our white robes.  And then, at last, while we may not be speaking the same languages, we will finally understand each other, why we each and all exist.

“Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Amen.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Destruction's Day: Reflecting on the Great Fire of Notre Dame


Thoughts on viewing the ashes of Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris, France, Holy Week 2019

Nothing is indestructible.  The façade of strength hides a weakness which can trigger destruction. So it is with buildings and human beings.

Nothing lasts forever.  On this earth, a century of work can be destroyed in a day.  Do not put your hope in things which ‘moths and rust’, or fire, can consume.

What makes a monument significant is unseen.  Monuments are cherished because of the dreams they represent.  A spire is a symbol of human aspirations to be with God. Spires fall. Spirits rise.

Destruction has it’s day.  But it is only a day.  Hidden underneath destruction’s ashes lies the spirit’s desire to resurrect that which has been destroyed. Death is the last enemy.

Friday is destruction’s day.

But, Saturday, underneath Friday’s ashes, hidden in tombs, the Spirit stirs, undoing Friday’s day of destruction, recreating.

Sunday dawns, for cathedrals and churches and synagogues. For trees and plants and flowers. For oceans and rivers and lakes.  For you and your loved ones and your God.

Sunday is Saturday’s Hope realized. 

Resurrection has a Day.  On its day the sun does not set. Human beings unite, across continents and oceans, overcoming races and languages and politics, to dream of restoration. Resurrection.


Saturday, April 13, 2019

Surprise Endings


I am reading a very long tome called Team of Rivals, about Abraham Lincoln and his compatriots. It is something like 750 pages long. It’s a good book, full of fascinating characters, and a story which holds up a mirror to our current national divisions. So, don’t get me wrong, I enjoy reading it, but as I got to page 150 I was thinking, ‘This story is never going to end!’

We live for the end.  We love good endings.  We love to read the book that is full of mysterious twists and turns and our minds begin to imagine the end.  “How will this end?”, we wonder, and the temptation to turn to the last page can become overwhelming.  How can the author bring together all of these plot lines and solve all of the main character’s dilemmas in the remaining pages? 

Sometimes the story is so good that we don’t want it to end.  We would rather stay lost in the writer’s imagination. We don’t want the story to end, because, well, this is the life we want to live and, even though we cannot live that life, we can imagine it. So, we slow down our reading pace, drinking in each word, like the first sip of morning coffee or the last sip of evening wine. 

Today is the Sabbath before the Sunday on which the crowds adored the main character. They loved His story. The king is coming! They couldn’t wait to see how his story would end.

But wait, is he a king or criminal? Who could have dreamt that this is what the Author had in mind? Their songs become jeers,  their palms become swords. He’s dead. End of story. Or is it?

We live for the end. We love good endings. But we are all writing His story into our own stories. In your life, is Jesus an irrelevant, dead man or a living King?  How do you want the story to end?

This Holy Week  don’t skip to the ending.  Live the whole of the journey. Perhaps you will discover that that the ending is still being written, that, SURPRISE, His story is your story. Keep on writing.



Saturday, April 6, 2019

Four 'Final' Lessons


For 19 years Tony Bennett has been striving to return to a Bennett-coached team mountain-top of college basketball: The Final Four, the holy grail of Division I Men’s Basketball. Today Tony enters that rarified air as head coach for the Virginia Cavaliers, following in the footsteps of his father, Dick, who did the same with the Wisconsin Badgers. I learned four lessons from watching these men reach the pinnacle of their respective careers, lessons which apply not just for coaches, but for all of life’s pursuits.

In 2018, Tony was the coach of the first number 1 seeded team to lose to a 16-seed. It was as embarrassing a sports performance as one can endure.  Now, in 2019, Tony and his team have gone to the top.  Lesson #1, a quote Tony uses: ‘If you learn to use it right, the adversity, it will buy you a ticket to a place you couldn't have gone any other way.’

Both Bennett-coached teams can be hard to watch. Why are they so ‘boring’? Because they coach a style of basketball which takes advantage of the talent their teams have rather than trying to copy the styles of teams with better athletes. Lesson #2: Be the best person God made you to be rather than try to be a poor imitation of someone else.

Laurel Bennett, Tony’s wife, captures Tony’s approach to life quoting his mantra: Lesson #3: “This is what I do. I’ll give it my best and I’ll live with it. But the other side of that coin is who I am, which is more important than what I do. And I am a child of God, and my values come from something other than my job.”

Tony, and his father before him, took a long and difficult road to the top of their profession. They won a lot; they lost a lot. They had as many critics as fans. But they believed the goal was worth it. Lesson #4: One day all of your life’s experiences will come together in a way that you dreamed, if you dare to dream God’s dreams for you.

Stay strong. Stay true.  Stay humble. Keep dreaming.
Sources: Jeff Potrykus, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel; 4.3.19; David Teel, www.dailypress.com; 4.5.19


Saturday, March 30, 2019

Justin Bieber's Spring Cleaning


Justin Bieber is stepping away from his music career.  Since I was never a fan of his music this news was not disturbing to me. Yet, I know that he was a ‘teen idol’ to millions of adoring fans.  He came to fame at age 15 and his career path led him to a popularity and fortune that few teens know but most dream of achieving.  If his string of awards from the music industry is any indicator, he is good at what he does.

Now he is in a spat with a former girlfriend, Selena Gomez, about why he married his wife, Hailey Baldwin. Their love lives and feelings, which most of us would express in emails or phone calls or commiserating with a buddy at the corner bar, are played out before thousands of eagerly watching eyes and ears. That isn’t healthy, and it is why Justin Bieber needs to step away to focus on ‘family and mental health.’

So, why am I telling you, a generation of readers who, for the most part, do not consume news of Bieber, Gomez and Baldwin, this story? One, if there are children you love, do not wish for them that type of fame and fortune. Discuss with them that their lives have meaning even when thousands are not following them on Instagram and Twitter; that being truly loved by a few people, and returning that love, deserves a lifetime achievement award worth more than a Grammy.

Second, I agree with therapist Siri Sat Nam Singh who observed, "[Our minds] are like our houses. If you don't clean your house it gets dusty and stinky and filthy. If you don't clean your mind — through reading books or calming exercises or meditation — you don't grow. In Western civilization it's all about matter: Everyone is trying to get rich, everyone is trying to buy the house and get the paper. Thus we lose consciousness in spite of the fact that we really are spirits as much as we are matter." (source: Peggy Drexler, cnn.com 3.26.19)

We are in Lent, an old word for ‘spring’. In this spiritual spring, make time to clean your minds, to renew your spirit. And encourage the young people you know to clean their minds and spirits, just like Justin.   

Saturday, March 23, 2019

"Free Food!"


I discovered Costco. I have been there enough to appreciate the superstore’s take on the human desire for ‘free food!’  Is there in fact such a thing as a free lunch? It is enough of a lure to capture the mind of an old Dutch man (me).

Of course, you must be a member, or arrive with a member to get the ‘free food!’, but that’s nit-picking. The food really is free. The drink too. In fact, I am sure there are people who plan their meals around the fact that a day of shopping at Costco will mean one fewer meal to prepare because of all the ‘free food!’  Of course, the premise of the very nice mostly female vendors offering you everything from soup to nuts is that someone is going to actually buy the product. They count on suckers, I mean, people like me who suffer from an immediate and overwhelming sense of obligation to buy ‘free food!’ because we want to help the nice ladies just trying to make a buck.  Costco wins.

Which makes me wonder if this is why God has such a hard time giving away ‘free food!’ on Sunday mornings. Christian churches offer Bread and Wine (or juice) somewhere between daily and quarterly.  You would think that would be an attractive offer, one that would cause the crowds to be breaking down the doors.  And yet, people stay away in droves.  Why? They don’t want to make the time? They were taught it is an obligation, and they don’t like being told what to do? They assume there is some hidden cost they will be suckered into because they believe everybody, especially those priests and ministers, all they really want is money?

God issues an invitation to truly free food and drink which results in everlasting life and love.  Yet the majority of people reject the invitation.  Don’t they understand that  the offer has an expiration date? (Isaiah 55:1-3, 6) It’s one thing to walk past the vendors at Costco; it’s a whole other thing to reject God’s invitation to ‘free food!’ What are we doing wrong?

Perhaps God should stop relying on amateurs like me and hire the Costco marketing department.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

"The Flames Will Not Set You Ablaze"


“On March 3 (2019) around 12:58am our department was dispatched to assist Beaver VFD with a structure fire at the Freedom Ministries Church, located in Grandview WV. Though odds were against us, God was not. Picture this, a building so hot that at one point in time, firefighters had to back out. In your mind, everything should be burned, ashes. Not a single bible was burned and not a single cross was harmed!! Not a single firefighter was hurt!” Facebook post, Coal City Fire Department

Here is how God tells his story today. There were over 47,000 ‘shares’ and over 4,500 ‘comments’ of this Facebook post. You can spend a long time being absorbed by the testimonies and praise.  And the main theme of it all, God is still doing miracles.  The description of the event reminds me of Daniel 3, where a king sends three men who worship God into a furnace for refusing to worship foreign gods or idols. The fire is so hot that it kills their captors but the flames do not touch Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. 

The world is desperate to believe that in the midst of life’s struggles, God is still mighty to save.  The world is looking for evidence that what the prophet Isaiah wrote is still true:
When you pass through the waters,
    I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
    they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
    you will not be burned;
    the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior… (Isaiah 43:2-3a)

Perhaps you feel like you are standing amidst the flames today; or about to drown in the raging rivers of life.  Can God save you from it? Why do you think God saved the Bibles?


Saturday, March 2, 2019

"And when the peony showed up..."


Metamorphóō (Greek), changing from one form into another, still retaining the essence of what one was and one is. Transfiguration. How are we to behold Christ’s glory and live? How can it be that we too are to be transfigured, transformed, that we are to experience metamorphóō in our being? (2 Corinthians 3:18) Some mysteries need a poet’s touch.
Contemplative prayer with peony                                                                                     
Text Box:  by Luci Shaw

So, I didn’t latch onto a holy word                                             
and go into space and, ethereal,
lose touch with my body. But God,
in those thirty slow minutes, you
unfolded in me the bud of a fresh
flower, with color and fragrance
that was more than my soul
was capable of, on its own.

. . . We all, with unveiled face,
behold as in a mirror
the glory of the Lord.

And when the peony showed up,
I knew it as a kind of mirror. This
was glory in pink and cream, with
a smell of heaven. Petals like valves
opening into the colors of my heart.

I saw myself kneeling on a grass border,
my knees bruising the green, pressing
my face into the face of this silken,
just-opened bloom, and breathing it,
wanting to drown in it. Wanting
to grow in its reflected image.
(Source: Christian Century, Nov. 19, 2015)

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Why Is It Hard to Be Nice?


Do you remember when it was fashionable to live by the rule “If you have nothing nice to say about someone, say nothing at all”?  It’s one of those life-lessons, “things I learned in kindergarten” kind of sayings.

A famous Christian writer observed over 500 years ago that, ‘there is hardly anyone who is not tickled with the desire of inquiring into other people’s faults….This depraved eagerness for biting, censuring, and slandering, is restrained by Christ when he says, Judge not.” (John Calvin on Luke 6:37)

Perhaps it is contrary to our human nature to speak nicely of others.  But is this an incurable disease, this practice of speaking mean words about people’s lives? Or is it possible to find a new way forward?  We believe we should say something ‘not nice’ about other people’s faults because ‘they deserve it’, or perhaps words will change society. For example, if a wealthy, famous man gets caught engaging in prostitution; or if an actor stages a crime to gain sympathy, there is nothing nice to say, but does that mean we should say nothing at all? 

But, before we speak words that condemn we should say, ‘there but for the grace of God go I’.  Judging is a sin when we do so from arrogance. When we condemn the sins of others, we should be careful to use words which reflect our own shortcomings, speaking with humility, not with glee.  That a wealthy, 77-year old man seeks sexual pleasure from prostitutes is not something to laugh about, it is something to cry about.  That an actor is so insecure that he thinks the best way to become famous is to deceive the police is a sad commentary on his life and our society, but it isn’t something we should take joy in repeating.

It is so easy today, in our hyper-connected world, to write mean words; to forward or copy tasteless ‘humor’ at the expense of another human being; to use labels as a means of ‘killing softly with words.’  In a society which judges people guilty based on headlines and rumors it might be hopeless to suggest we can do better.

Let’s try to be nicer to each other.  You might change someone, like yourself, for good. (Luke 6:38)

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Chris Pratt, Stephen Colbert and Daniel's Den


I didn’t know who Chris Pratt was until he was attacked for being a Christian.  I learned he was a voice actor for the “Lego” movie series, which I will confess to watching (with my grandsons). I did know who Stephen Colbert was, mostly from reading clips from his Late Show monologues. I would not have guessed either man to be a ‘religious’ practitioner.  That’ll teach me.

Chris Pratt, a famous actor (22.9 million Instagram followers!), was being interviewed by Stephen Colbert when Chris explained that he had recently completed the Daniel Plan diet. Stephen asked, “So, is this the prophet Daniel?”  When it was confirmed that it was a diet based on that Daniel, Stephen asked Chris if life as a famous actor was like being in the Lion’s Den.  Stop for a moment and think about this.  In our secularized society, here are two famous Hollywood-types talking about Daniel and the Lion’s Den on national television. That’s more late-night TV air time for God than any church could ever afford to purchase!

Chris took that opening to talk about a clue his Pastor had given him about handling fame.  After the interview aired, an actress took to social media to attack Chris because of the beliefs of the church Chris attended. Chris’ responded with an Instagram post defending his church as being one that loved him through his divorce and, he explained, regardless, he followed the ‘New Commandment’ of Jesus to love one another. He concluded: “This is what guides me in my life. He is a God of Love, Acceptance and Forgiveness. Hate has no place in my or this world.”

And just like that, millions were exposed to the true Christianity.  Jesus warned us that it would be a bad thing if everyone spoke well of his followers. (Luke 6:26) If we speak the Truth those who oppose the work of the Church will attack us. Chris offered a model response to those attacks. God opened my eyes to see how, while it may seem that God is losing the battle for the world’s heart, nothing is ever as it seems. God is still winning. “God is love” is still a message which God is sending to millions of hungry souls.

Nice to know you, Chris. 


Saturday, February 2, 2019

Ron Reagan, Religion and Hell


Ron Reagan (no, not the former President but his son) and I agree on some things.  We also disagree on some more important things.  But, following the lead of my theological ancestor, John Calvin, I am going to let positive thoughts about Ron dominate my thinking today.  Trying to find places we agree is always a better way through life.

Ron supports “Freedom From Religion.”  In a commercial for the organization, Ron encourages others to join in advocating for the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of Freedom of Religion.  Do you see the difference?  I do advocate for Freedom of Religion. Freedom of Religion, right along with Freedom of Speech, made and keep America viable.  But, the Founders never anticipated that the government would guarantee freedom from religion.  The government is not here to protect atheists, like Ron, nor agnostics, from God-believers invoking God’s providential care.  Just like the government doesn’t protect me from atheists publicly denying my God exists. Can you agree with me on that, Ron?

The tag line of Ron’s commercial, delivered with a small smile (smirk?), tells us that he is “Ron Reagan. Life-long atheist. Not afraid of burning in Hell.” On this last point, Ron and I share a common belief. I am not afraid of burning in Hell either, Ron.  In fact, I am certain I am going to spend eternity with God (“Heaven”), not apart from God (“Hell”).  The Bible tells me so. (As does John Calvin.) Now, I don’t know if Ron is not afraid of burning in Hell because he doesn’t believe Hell exists, or because he doesn’t believe there is a God to be separated from. Maybe it is both.

This morning, at 3:00 a.m., I received an email with “????” as the subject line. The only message was 2 Peter 3:9, quoted below. I replied “Truth. Amen! Let’s talk.” Peter gives me Hope that neither Ron nor I will be separated from the love of God.  There’s time, Ron, for you and I to agree on even the more important things.

God isn’t late with his promise as some measure lateness. He is restraining himself on account of you, holding back the End because he doesn’t want anyone lost. He’s giving everyone space and time to change. (2 Peter 3:9, The Message)

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Mike Pence, Lady Gaga and Jesus


Which follower represents the real Jesus? Vice-president Mike Pence or entertainer Lady Gaga? The public spat between these two famous Christians represents the current state of affairs in North American Christianity.  The divide in the modern Church has fallen between ‘conservatives’ on one side and ‘progressives’ on the other. (Some writers will use the terms ‘fundamentalists’ and ‘liberals’, but I do not believe they fairly capture the 21st Century groupings.)

Some advocates on both sides have said that any Christian must choose a ‘side’ or a ‘label’ in the current debate. Each side will claim that the other side does not represent a truly  ‘Christian’ point of view.  Sometimes history has, I think, proven that to be true: both sides cannot be right. For example, the so-called Christian Crusades are one of the blackest marks in the history of the Church. Advocacy for slavery, arguing it was somehow supported by the Bible, is another example of Christians abusing the Bible for their personal, economic or political goals.

However, I would like to sound a note of caution to those who claim one must fall in the camp of either Mike Pence or Lady Gaga.  The danger every Christian and every church must guard against is using Jesus to promote personal, economic, social or political views. By this I mean we always stand in danger of getting it backwards:  “I believe ‘X’, and here are words of Jesus which support my point of view.”  The proper use of Jesus’s words is to allow Jesus to speak for himself first: “Jesus says ‘X’, and I make Jesus’ beliefs my own.” 

I believe that both Mike Pence and Lady Gaga are children of God and followers of Jesus. Both are sinners saved by grace.  So are you. But, they are not Jesus.  Neither are you. Only Jesus is Jesus.  Read what Jesus says, then decide what you, as a Christian, are called to believe and to do. 21st Century Christianity has created a false choice for Christians. You are not required to choose sides: ‘progressives’ or ‘conservatives’. Choose to be on the side of Jesus.

Now, go read Luke 4:18-19.  This was Jesus’ self-chosen mission statement. Make it your own. And pray for Mike Pence and Lady Gaga to find unity in Jesus.


Saturday, January 19, 2019

Seeing the Winemaker


Did you hear the one about Jesus turning water into wine?  Jesus’ mother asks him to help save a groom from the embarrassment (and potential lawsuits from disgruntled guests!) for running out of wine before the party was over. Jesus, in a quiet, hardly-noticed way, provides. (John 2:1-11)

Modern ears, rendered skeptical by science, hear that story and respond,  ‘Really? This sounds just like some ancient Greek myth about their god of wine.’  

But, in our less skeptical moments; in our more faith-filled moments, I wonder if we want this story to be true. We want to see it as the new reality, because deep down, we dare to dream and hope that there will be a day when none will be in want, when all will be invited to the Party. (You should stop here and read Amos 9:13-14)

Jesus is at the party, and he is just doing that which God does every year, but in a super-sped up way.  We see it with every glass of wine, but, like the guests at that wedding in Cana, we don’t see the Maker. So, if when you read about Jesus turning water into wine your response is ‘balderdash’, perhaps the problem lies not in the story but in your eyes.

Look!

“God creates the vine and teaches it to draw up water by its roots and, with the aid of the sun, to turn that water into a juice which will ferment and take on certain qualities. Thus every year, from Noah’s time till ours, God turns water into wine.  That, men fail to see. Either like the Pagans they refer the process to some finite spirit, Bacchus or Dionysus: or else, like the moderns, they attribute real and ultimate causality to the chemical and other material phenomena which are all that our senses can discover in it. But when Christ at Cana makes water into wine, the mask is off’ (John 5:19). The miracle has only half its effect if it only convinces us that Christ is God: it will have its full effect if whenever we see a vineyard or drink a glass of wine we remember that here works He who sat at the wedding party in Cana.”

C.S. Lewis, “Miracles,” God in the Dock (Eerdmans: 1970)

Saturday, January 12, 2019

When The World Is Too Much With You


In the human effort to manage time we created calendars. We mark off time by days, months, years.  Thus we created an annual rite of turning the page to a ‘new year.’  It is an artificial creation, the new year, but one we all agree upon. For most of the ‘new year’s’ of my life I have been happy for it to arrive. It gives me reason to feel like ‘this year will be different’. Personally or professionally or relationally.

But this ‘new year’ was different.  My mind couldn’t get to thinking positive thoughts because the stock market had just suffered its worst December in like forever; the government was partially shutdown with no end in sight as the children who govern us play games with our lives; the threats to world stability in the Middle East were growing. Some ‘Happy New Year’, my mind persuaded me to lament.  My thoughts were caught up with William Wordsworth’s sonnet’s first lines:
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
…We are out of tune. Great God!

And then another word came to me, a word I credit to the Spirit.  “In every situation, by prayer and petition.” I looked up Philippians 4:6. The formula for overcoming my anxiety was right before my eyes.  Now I pray for our nation and our world because that is the only thing I can control in the midst of the mess.  I cannot alter the stock market. I cannot negotiate an end to the longest shutdown in U.S. history. All I can do is change my focus.  I can offer thanksgiving to God for God’s faithfulness; I can offer petitions in prayers for sanity and stability. I can do what I can to get the world back into ‘tune’, so the notes sound like they should.  I can stop giving my heart away.  I can focus less on ‘getting and spending’ and more on seeing in Nature that which is ours.

I can overcome my anxiety about this new year by giving time back to God, and receiving from God the eternity on the other side of the window.